Skip to main content

Full text of "Granite and rainbow : essays"

See other formats



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2011 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 



The Voyage Out, 1915 

Night and Day, 1919 

Kew Gardens, 1919 

Monday or Tuesday, 192 1 

Jacob's Room, 1922 

The Common Reader: First Series, 1925 

Mrs. Dalloway, 1925 

To the Lighthouse, 1927 

Orlando, 1928 

A Room of One's Own, 1929 

The Waves, 1 93 1 

Letter to a Young Poet, 1932 

The Common Reader: Second Series. 1932 

Flush, 1933 

The Years, 1 937 

Three Guineas, 1938 

Roger Fry: A Biography, 1940 

Between the Acts, 1 94 1 

The Death of the Moth, 1942 

A Haunted House, 1944 

The Moment and other Essays, 1947 

The Captain's Deathbed and other Essays, 1950 

A Writer's Diary, 1954 

Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey: Letters, 1956 


Essays by g^-/D$ff 



© 1958 by Leonard Woolf 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be 

reproduced in any form or by any mechanical means, 

including mimeograph and tape recorder, without 

permission in writing from the publisher. 

first American edition 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 58-10898 

Printed in the United States of America 


Editorial Note page 7 


The Narrow Bridge of Art 1 1 

Hours in a Library 24 

Impassioned Prose 32 

Life and the Novelist 41 

On Rereading Meredith 48 

The Anatomy of Fiction 53 

Gothic Romance 57 

The Supernatural in Fiction 61 

Henry James's Ghost Stories 65 

A Terribly Sensitive Mind 73 

Women and Fiction 76 

An Essay in Criticism 85 

Phases of Fiction 93 


The New Biography 149 

A Talk About Memoirs 156 

Sir Walter Raleigh 162 

Sterne • 167 

Eliza and Sterne 176 

Horace Walpole 181 

A Friend of Johnson 187 

Fanny Burney's Half-Sister 192 

Money and Love 205 

The Dream 2 1 2 


The Fleeting Portrait: 

i . Waxworks at the Abbey 216 

2. The Royal Academy 219 

Poe's Helen 225 

Visits to Walt Whitman 229 

Oliver Wendell Holmes 232 


VIRGINIA WOOLF published during her life two vol- 
umes of collected essays : The Common Reader, First and 
Second Series. After her death I took steps to gather together 
her essays which had not been included in those volumes. 
There were a considerable number of them ; most of them 
had been published in journals, but a few had never been 
published. They proved sufficient to fill three posthumous 
volumes: The Death of the Moth, 1942; The Moment, 1947, 
and The Captain's Death Bed, 1950. I included in those 
volumes only those essays which seemed to me of the same 
order of excellence as those which she herself had chosen to 
reprint in The Common Reader. When I published The Cap- 
tain's Death Bed, I thought that I had been able to identify 
all the essays which had appeared in journals and I wrote 
in the Editorial Note to that volume that it would be the 
last book of collected essays, since I had now included in the 
posthumous volumes all her essays, with a few unimportant 

I was mistaken about this, for those who had searched the 
records, including myself, had overlooked a considerable 
number of essays of the same kind and of the same merit as 
those published in the five volumes. There were several 
reasons for this. Virginia Woolf only spasmodically kept 
copies of essays and reviews written by her for journals and 
there was often no record of their publication among her 
papers. This accounted for the fact that the existence of 
the long essay, Phases of Fiction, published in The Bookman in 
1929, was forgotten. Another difficulty was that so many of 
her essays appeared anonymously in papers like the Times 
Literary Supplement, and a further complication, not noticed 
by the searchers, was that in some cases they had been 
written under her maiden name, Virginia Stephen. The 
discovery of the essays now published was due to the zeal 


and intelligence of Miss B. L. Kirkpatrick and Dr. Mary 
Lyon. Miss Kirkpatrick has devoted infinite pains to the 
preparation of her Bibliography of Virginia Woolf. Dr. Lyon 
is Director of Graduate Residence of Radcliffe College, 
Cambridge, Mass., and teacher of a literature course at 
Harvard University. She is writing a book on Virginia 
Woolf as Critic, and came to England on a visit in order to 
do some research on her subject. She took much trouble to 
determine what had or had not been published and re- 
published. Without the work of Miss Kirkpatrick and Dr. 
Mary Lyon I should never have found the essays now pub- 
lished in this volume. The journals in which they first ap- 
peared are given by me in footnotes to the essays. 




The Narrow Bridge of Art 1 

FAR the greater number of critics turn their backs upon 
the present and gaze steadily into the past. Wisely, no 
doubt, they make no comment upon what is being actually 
written at the moment; they leave that duty to the race of 
reviewers whose very title seems to imply transiency in them- 
selves and in the objects they survey. But one has sometimes 
asked oneself, must the duty of the critic always be to the 
past, must his gaze always be fixed backward? Could he not 
sometimes turn round and, shading his eyes in the manner 
of Robinson Crusoe on the desert island, look into the future 
and trace on its mist the faint lines of the land which some 
day perhaps we may reach? The truth of such speculations 
can never be proved, of course, but in an age like ours there 
is a great temptation to indulge in them. For it is an age 
clearly when we are not fast anchored where we are; things 
are moving round us; we are moving ourselves. Is it not the 
critic's duty to tell us, or to guess at least, where we are 

Obviously the inquiry must narrow itself very strictly, but 
it might perhaps be possible in a short space to take one 
instance of dissatisfaction and difficulty, and, having exam- 
ined into that, we might be the better able to guess the 
direction in which, when we have surmounted it, we shall go. 

Nobody indeed can read much modern literature without 
being aware that some dissatisfaction, some difficulty, is 
lying in our way. On all sides writers are attempting what 
they cannot achieve, are forcing the form they use to contain 
a meaning which is strange to it. Many reasons might be 
given, but here let us select only one, and that is the failure 
of poetry to serve us as it has served so many generations of 
our fathers. Poetry is not lending her services to us nearly as 
1 New York Herald Tribune, August 14, 1927. 
I I 


freely as she did to them. The great channel of expression 
which has carried away so much energy, so much genius, 
seems to have narrowed itself or to have turned aside. 

That is true only within certain limits of course; our age is 
rich in lyric poetry; no age perhaps has been richer. But for 
our generation and the generation that is coming the lyric 
cry of ecstasy or despair, which is so intense, so personal, and 
so limited, is not enough. The mind is full of monstrous, 
hybrid, unmanageable emotions. That the age of the earth is 
3,000,000,000 years; that human life lasts but a second; that 
the capacity of the human mind is nevertheless boundless; 
that life is infinitely beautiful yet repulsive; that one's fellow 
creatures are adorable but disgusting; that science and 
religion have between them destroyed belief; that all bonds 
of union seem broken, yet some control must exist — it is in 
this atmosphere of doubt and conflict that writers have now 
to create, and the fine fabric of a lyric is no more fitted to 
contain this point of view than a rose leaf to envelop the 
rugged immensity of a rock. 

But when we ask ourselves what has in the past served to 
express such an attitude as this — an attitude which is full of 
contrast and collision; an attitude which seems to demand 
the conflict of one character upon another, and at the same 
time to stand in need of some general shaping power, some 
conception which lends the whole harmony and force, we 
must reply that there was a form once, and it was not the 
form of lyric poetry; it was the form of the drama, of the 
poetic drama of the Elizabethan age. And that is the one form 
which seems dead beyond all possibility of resurrection to-day. 

For if we look at the state of the poetic play we must have 
grave doubts that any force on earth can now revive it. It 
has been practised and is still practised by writers of the 
highest genius and ambition. Since the death of Dryden 
every great poet it seems has had his fling. Wordsworth and 
Coleridge, Shelley and Keats, Tennyson, Swinburne, and 
Browning (to name the dead only) have all written poetic 
plays, but none has succeeded. Of all the plays they wrote, 
probably only Swinburne's Atalanta and Shelley's Prometheus 



are still read, and they less frequently than other works by 
the same writers. All the rest have climbed to the top shelves 
of our bookcases, put their heads under their wings, and 
gone to sleep. No one will willingly disturb those slumbers. 

Yet it is tempting to try to find some explanation of this 
failure in case it should throw light upon the future which 
we are considering. The reason why poets can no longer 
write poetic plays lies somewhere perhaps in this direction. 

There is a vague, mysterious thing called an attitude 
toward life. We all know people — if we turn from literature 
to life for a moment — who are at loggerheads with exist- 
ence; unhappy people who never get what they want; are 
baffled, complaining, who stand at an uncomfortable angle 
whence they see everything askew. There are others again 
who, though they appear perfectly content, seem to have 
lost all touch with reality. They lavish all their affections 
upon little dogs and old china. They take interest in nothing 
but the vicissitudes of their own health and the ups and 
downs of social snobbery. There are, however, others who 
strike us, why precisely it would be difficult to say, as being 
by nature or circumstances in a position where they can use 
their faculties to the full upon things that are of importance. 
They are not necessarily happy or successful, but there is a 
zest in their presence, an interest in their doings. They seem 
alive all over. This may be partly the result of circumstances 
— they have been born into surroundings that suit them — 
but much more is the result of some happy balance of 
qualities in themselves so that they see things not at an 
awkward angle, all askew; nor distorted through a mist; 
but four square, in proportion; they grasp something hard; 
when they come into action they cut real ice. 

A writer too has in the same way an attitude toward life, 
though it is a different life from the other. They too can 
stand at an uncomfortable angle; can be baffled, frustrated, 
unable to get at what they want as writers. This is true, for 
example, of the novels of George Gissing. Then, again, they 
can retire to the suburbs and lavish their interest upon pet 
dogs and duchesses — prettinesses, sentimentalities, snob- 



beries, and this is true of some of our most highly successful 
novelists. But there are others who seem by nature or cir- 
cumstances so placed that they can use their faculties freely 
upon important things. It is not that they write quickly or 
easily, or become at once successful or celebrated. One is 
rather trying to analyse a quality which is present in most 
of the great ages of literature and is most marked in the work 
of Elizabethan dramatists. They seem to have an attitude 
toward life, a position which allows them to move their 
limbs freely; a view which, though made up of all sorts of 
different things, falls into the right perspective for their 

In part, of course, this was the result of circumstances. 
The public appetite, not for books, but for the drama, the 
smallness of the towns, the distance which separated people, 
the ignorance in which even the educated then lived, all 
made it natural for the Elizabethan imagination to fill itself 
with lions and unicorns, dukes and duchesses, violence and 
mystery. This was reinforced by something which we cannot 
explain so simply, but which we can certainly feel. They had 
an attitude toward life which made them able to express 
themselves freely and fully. Shakespeare's plays are not the 
work of a baffled and frustrated mind; they are the perfectly 
elastic envelope of his thought. Without a hitch he turns 
from philosophy to a drunken brawl; from love songs to an 
argument; from simply merriment to profound speculation. 
And it is true of all the Elizabethan dramatists that though 
they may bore us — and they do — they never make us feel 
that they are afraid or self-conscious, or that there is any- 
thing hindering, hampering, inhibiting the full current of 
their minds. 

Yet our first thought when we open a modern poetic play 
— and this applies to much modern poetry — is that the 
writer is not at his ease. He is afraid, he is forced, he is self- 
conscious. And with what good reason! we may exclaim, for 
which of us is perfectly at his ease with a man in a toga called 
Xenocrates, or with a woman in a blanket called Eudoxa? 
Yet for some reason the modern poetic play is always about 



Xenocrates and not about Mr. Robinson; it is about Thes- 
saly and not about Charing Cross Road. When the Eliza- 
bethans laid their scenes in foreign parts and made their 
heroes and heroines princes and princesses they only shifted 
the scene from one side to the other of a very thin veil. It 
was a natural device which gave depth and distance to their 
figures. But the country remained English; and the Bohemian 
prince was the same person as the English noble. Our 
modern poetic playwrights, however, seem to seek the veil 
of the past and of distance for a different reason. They want 
not a veil that heightens but a curtain that conceals; they 
lay their scene in the past because they are afraid of the 
present. They are aware that if they tried to express the 
thoughts, the visions, the sympathies and antipathies which 
are actually turning and tumbling in their brains in this year 
of grace 1927 the poetic decencies would be violated; they 
could only stammer and stumble and perhaps have to sit 
down or to leave the room. The Elizabethans had an attitude 
which allowed them complete freedom; the modern play- 
wright has either no attitude at all, or one so strained that it 
cramps his limbs and distorts his vision. He has therefore to 
take refuge with Xenocrates, who says nothing or only what 
blank verse can with decency say. 

But can we explain ourselves a little more fully? What has 
changed, what has happened, what has put the writer now 
at such an angle that he cannot pour his mind straight into 
the old channels of English poetry? Some sort of answer 
may be suggested by a walk through the streets of any large 
town. The long avenue of brick is cut up into boxes, each of 
which is inhabited by a different human being who has put 
locks on his doors and bolts on his windows to ensure some 
privacy, yet is linked to his fellows by wires which pass over- 
head, by waves of sound which pour through the roof and 
speak aloud to him of battles and murders and strikes and 
revolutions all over the world. And if we go in and talk to 
him we shall find that he is a wary, secretive, suspicious 
animal, extremely self-conscious, extremely careful not to 
give himself away. Indeed, there is nothing in modern life 




which forces him to do it. There is no violence in private 
life; we are polite, tolerant, agreeable, when we meet. War 
even is conducted by companies and communities rather 
than by individuals. Duelling is extinct. The marriage bond 
can stretch indefinitely without snapping. The ordinary 
person is calmer, smoother, more self-contained than he 
used to be. 

But again we should find if we took a walk with our 
friend that he is extremely alive to everything — to ugliness, 
sordidity, beauty, amusement. He follows every thought 
careless where it may lead him. He discusses openly what 
used never to be mentioned even privately. And this very 
freedom and curiosity are perhaps the cause of what appears 
to be his most marked characteristic — the strange way in 
which things that have no apparent connection are asso- 
ciated in his mind. Feelings which used to come single and 
separate do so no longer. Beauty is part ugliness; amusement 
part disgust; pleasure part pain. Emotions which used to 
enter the mind whole are now broken up on the threshold. 

For example: It is a spring night, the moon is up, the 
nightingale singing, the willows bending over the river. Yes, 
but at the same time a diseased old woman is picking over 
her greasy rags on a hideous iron bench. She and the spring 
enter his mind together; they blend but do not mix. The 
two emotions, so incongruously coupled, bite and kick at 
each other in unison. But the emotion which Keats felt when 
he heard the song of the nightingale is one and entire, 
though it passes from joy in beauty to sorrow at the unhappi- 
ness of human fate. He makes no contrast. In his poem 
sorrow is the shadow which accompanies beauty. In the 
modern mind beauty is accompanied not by its shadow but 
by its opposite. The modern poet talks of the nightingale 
who sings 'jug jug to dirty ears'. There trips along by the 
side of our modern beauty some mocking spirit which sneers 
at beauty for being beautiful; which turns the looking-glass 
and shows us that the other side of her cheek is pitted and 
deformed. It is as if the modern mind, wishing always to 
verify its emotions, had lost the power of accepting anything 



simply for what it is. Undoubtedly this sceptical and testing 
spirit has led to a great freshening and quickening of soul. 
There is a candour, an honesty in modern writing which is 
salutary if not supremely delightful. Modern literature, 
which had grown a little sultry and scented with Oscar 
Wilde and Walter Pater, revived instantly from her nine- 
teenth-century languor when Samuel Butler and Bernard 
Shaw began to burn their feathers and apply their salts to 
her nose. She awoke; she sat up; she sneezed. Naturally, the 
poets were frightened away. 

For of course poetry has always been overwhelmingly on 
the side of beauty. She has always insisted on certain rights, 
such as rhyme, metre, poetic diction. She has never been 
used for the common purpose of life. Prose has taken all the 
dirty work on to her own shoulders; has answered letters, 
paid bills, written articles, made speeches, served the needs 
of businessmen, shopkeepers, lawyers, soldiers, peasants. 

Poetry has remained aloof in the possession of her priests. 
She has perhaps paid the penalty for this seclusion by becom- 
ing a little stiff. Her presence with all her apparatus — her 
veils, her garlands, her memories, her associations — affects 
us the moment she speaks. Thus when we ask poetry to 
express this discord, this incongruity, this sneer, this contrast, 
this curiosity, the quick, queer emotions which are bred in 
small separate rooms, the wide, general ideas which civiliza- 
tion teaches, she cannot move quickly enough, simply 
enough, or broadly enough to do it. Her accent is too 
marked; her manner too emphatic. She gives us instead 
lovely lyric cries of passion; with a majestic sweep of her arm 
she bids us take refuge in the past; but she does not keep 
pace with the mind and fling herself subtly, quickly, pas- 
sionately into its various sufferings and joys. Byron in Don 
Juan pointed the way; he showed how flexible an instrument 
poetry might become, but none has followed his example or 
put his tool to further use. We remain without a poetic play. 

Thus we are brought to reflect whether poetry is capable 
of the task which we are now setting her. It may be that the 
emotions here sketched in such rude outline and imputed to 



the modern mind submit more readily to prose than to 
poetry. It may be possible that prose is going to take over — 
has, indeed, already taken over : — some of the duties which 
were once discharged by poetry. „ 

If, then, we are daring and risk ridicule and try to see in 
what direction we who seem to be moving so fast are going, 
we may guess that we are going in the direction of prose and 
that in ten or fifteen years' time prose will be used for pur- 
poses for which prose has never been used before. That 
cannibal, the novel, which has devoured so many forms of 
art will by then have devoured even more. We shall be 
forced to invent new names for the different books which 
masquerade under this one heading. And it is possible that 
there will be among the so-called novels one which we shall 
scarcely know how to christen. It will be written in prose, 
but in prose which has many of the characteristics of poetry. 
It will have something of the exaltation of poetry, but much 
of the ordinariness of prose. It will be dramatic, and yet not 
a play. It will be read, not acted. By what name we are to 
call it is not a matter of very great importance. What is 
important is that this book which we see on the horizon may 
serve to express some of those feelings which seem at the 
moment to be balked by poetry pure and simple and to find 
the drama equally inhospitable to them. Let us try, then, to 
come to closer terms with it and to imagine what may be its 
scope and nature. 

In the first place, one may guess that it will differ from the 
novel as we know it now chiefly in that it will stand further 
back from life. It will give, as poetry does, the outline rather 
than the detail. It will make little use of the marvellous 
fact-recording power, which is one of the attributes of fiction. 
It will tell us very little about the houses, incomes, occupa- 
tions of its characters; it will have little kinship with the 
sociological novel or the novel of environment. With these 
limitations it will express the feeling and ideas of the char- 
acters closely and vividly, but from a different angle. It will 
resemble poetry in this that it will give not only or mainly 
people's relations to each other and their activities together, 



as the novel has hitherto done, but it will give the relation of 
the mind to general ideas and its soliloquy in solitude. For 
under the dominion of the novel we have scrutinized one 
part of the mind closely and left another unexplored. We 
have come to forget that a large and important part of life 
consists in our emotions toward such things as roses and 
nightingales, the dawn, the sunset, life, death, and fate; we 
forget that we spend much time sleeping, dreaming, think- 
ing, reading, alone; we are not entirely occupied in personal 
relations; all our energies are not absorbed in making our 
livings. The psychological novelist has been too prone to 
limit psychology to the psychology of personal intercourse; 
we long sometimes to escape from the incessant, the remorse- 
less analysis of falling into love and falling out of love, of 
what Tom feels for Judith and Judith does or does not alto- 
gether feel for Tom. We long for some more impersonal 
relationship. We long for ideas, for dreams, for imaginations, 
for poetry. 

And it is one of the glories of the Elizabethan dramatists 
that they give us this. The poet is always able to transcend 
the particularity of Hamlet's relation to Ophelia and to give 
us his questioning not of his own personal lot alone but of the 
state and being of all human life. In Measure for Measure, for 
example, passages of extreme psychological subtlety are 
mingled with profound reflections, tremendous imagina- 
tions. Yet it is worth noticing that if Shakespeare gives us 
this profundity, this psychology, at the same time Shake- 
speare makes no attempt to give us certain other things. 
The plays are of no use whatever as 'applied sociology'. If 
we had to depend upon them for a knowledge of the social 
and economic conditions of Elizabethan life, we should be 
hopelessly at sea. 

In these respects then the novel or the variety of the novel 
which will be written in time to come will take on some of 
the attributes of poetry. It will give the relations of man to 
nature, to fate; his imagination; his dreams. But it will also 
give the sneer, the contrast, the question, the closeness and 
complexity of life. It will take the mould of that queer con- 



glomeration of incongruous things — the modern mind. 
Therefore it will clasp to its breast the precious prerogatives 
of the democratic art of prose; its freedom, its fearlessness, 
its flexibility. For prose is so humble that it can go anywhere; 
no place is too low, too sordid, or too mean for it to enter. It 
is infinitely patient, too, humbly acquisitive. It can lick up 
with its long glutinous tongue the most minute fragments of 
fact and mass them into the most subtle labyrinths, and 
listen silently at doors behind which only a murmur, only a 
whisper, is to be heard. With all the suppleness of a tool 
which is in constant use it can follow the windings and 
record the changes which are typical of the modern mind. 
To this, with Proust and Dostoevsky behind us, we must 

But can prose, we may ask, adequate though it is to deal 
with the common and the complex — can prose say the 
simple things which are so tremendous? Give the sudden 
emotions which are so surprising? Can it chant the elegy, or 
hymn the love, or shriek in terror, or praise the rose, the 
nightingale, or the beauty of the night? Can it leap at one 
spring at the heart of its subject as the poet does? I think not. 
That is the penalty it pays for having dispensed with the 
incantation and the mystery, with rhyme and metre. It is 
true that prose writers are daring; they are constantly forc- 
ing their instrument to make the attempt. But one has always 
a feeling of discomfort in the presence of the purple patch or 
the prose poem. The objection to the purple patch, how- 
ever, is not that it is purple but that it is a patch. Recall for 
instance Meredith's 'Diversion on a Penny Whistle' in 
Richard Feveral. How awkwardly, how emphatically, with a 
broken poetic metre it begins: 'Golden lie the meadows; 
golden run the streams; red-gold is on the pine-stems. The 
sun is coming down to earth and walks the fields and the 
waters.' Or recall the famous description of the storm at the 
end of Charlotte Bronte's Villette. These passages are elo- 
quent, lyrical, splendid; they read very well cut out and 
stuck in an anthology; but in the context of the novel they 
make us uncomfortable. For both Meredith and Charlotte 



Bronte called themselves novelists; they stood close up to 
life; they led us to expect the rhythm, the observation, and 
the perspective of poetry. We feel the jerk and the effort; we 
are half woken from that trance of consent and illusion in 
which our submission to the power of the writer's imagina- 
tion is most complete. 

But let us now consider another book, which though 
written in prose and by way of being called a novel, adopts 
from the start a different attitude, a different rhythm, which 
stands back from life, and leads us to expect a different 
perspective — Tristram Shandy. It is a book full of poetry, but 
we never notice it; it is a book stained deep purple, which is 
yet never patchy. Here though the mood is changing always, 
there is no jerk, no jolt in that change to waken us from the 
depths of consent and belief. In the same breath Sterne 
laughs, sneers, cuts some indecent ribaldry, and passes on to 
a passage like this: 

Time wastes too fast: every letter I trace tells me with 
what rapidity life follows my pen; the days and hours of it 
more precious — my dear Jenny — than the rubies about 
thy neck, are flying over our heads like light clouds of a 
windy day, never to return more; everything presses on 
— whilst thou are twisting that lock — see! it grows gray; 
and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, and every 
absence which follows it, are preludes to that eternal 
separation which we are shortly to make. — Heaven have 
mercy upon us both! 


Now, for what the world thinks of that ejaculation — I 
would not give a groat. 

And he goes on to my Uncle Toby, the Corporal, Mrs. 
Shandy, and the rest of them. 

There, one sees, is poetry changing easily and naturally 
into prose, prose into poetry. Standing a little aloof, Sterne 
lays his hands lightly upon imagination, wit, fantasy; and 
reaching high up among the branches where these things 
grow, naturally and no doubt willingly forfeits his right to 
the more substantial vegetables that grow on the ground. 



For, unfortunately, it seems true that some renunciation is 
inevitable. You cannot cross the narrow bridge of art carry- 
ing all its tools in your hands. Some you must leave behind, 
or you will drop them in midstream or, what is worse, over- 
balance and be drowned yourself. 

/ So, then, this unnamed variety of the novel will be written 

/standing back from life, because in that way a larger view is 

f to be obtained of some important features of it; it will be 

^ written in prose, because prose, if you free it from the beast- 

of-burden work which so many novelists necessarily lay 

upon it, of carrying loads of details, bushels of fact — prose 

thus treated will show itself capable of rising high from the 

ground, not in one dart, but in sweeps and circles, and of 

keeping at the same time in touch with the amusements and 

idiosyncrasies of human character in daily life. 

There remains, however, a further question. Can prose be 
dramatic? It is obvious, of course, that Shaw and Ibsen have 
used prose dramatically with the highest success, but they 
have been faithful to the dramatic form. This form one may 
prophesy is not the one which the poetic dramatist of the 
future will find fit for his needs. A prose play is too rigid, too 
limited, too emphatic for his purposes. It lets slip between 
its meshes half the things that he wants to say. He cannot 
compress into dialogue all the comment, all the analysis, all 
the richness that he wants to give. Yet he covets the explosive 
emotional effect of the drama; he wants to draw blood from 
his readers, and not merely to stroke and tickle their intellec- 
tual susceptibilities. The looseness and freedom of Tristram 
Shandy, wonderfully though they encircle and float off such 
characters as Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim, do not 
attempt to range and marshal these people in dramatic 
contrast together. Therefore it will be necessary for the 
writer of this exacting book to bring to bear upon his 
tumultuous and contradictory emotions the generalizing 
and simplifying power of a strict and logical imagination. 
Tumult is vile; confusion is hateful; everything in a work of 
art should be mastered and ordered. His effort will be to 
generalize and split up. Instead of enumerating details he 



will mould blocks. His characters thus will have a dramatic 
power which the minutely realized characters of contem- 
porary fiction often sacrifice in the interests of psychology. 
And then, though this is scarcely visible, so far distant it lies 
on the rim of the horizon — one can imagine that he will have 
extended the scope of his interest so as to dramatize some of 
those influences which play so large a part in life, yet have 
so far escaped the novelist — the power of music, the stimulus 
of sight, the effect on us of the shape of trees or the play of 
colour, the emotions bred in us by crowds, the obscure 
terrors and hatreds which come so irrationally in certain 
places or from certain people, the delight of movement, the 
intoxication of wine. Every moment is the centre and meet- 
ing-place of an extraordinary number of perceptions which 
have not yet been expressed. Life is always and inevitably 
much richer than we who try to express it. 

But it needs no great gift of prophecy to be certain that 
whoever attempts to do what is outlined above will have 
need of all his courage. Prose is not going to learn a new 
step at the bidding of the first comer. Yet if the signs of the 
times are worth anything the need of fresh developments is 
being felt. It is certain that there are scattered about in 
England, France, and America writers who are trying to 
work themselves free from a bondage which has become 
irksome to them; writers who are trying to readjust their 
attitude so that they may once more stand easily and natur- 
ally in a position where their powers have full play upon 
important things. And it is when a book strikes us as the 
result of that attitude rather than by its beauty or its bril- 
liancy that we know that it has in it the seeds of an enduring 



Hours in a Library' 

1ET us begin by clearing up the old confusion between 
J the man who loves learning and the man who loves 
reading, and point out that there is no connexion whatever 
between the two. A learned man is a sedentary, concentrated 
solitary enthusiast, who searches through books to discover 
some particular grain of truth upon which he has set his 
heart. If the passion for reading conquers him, his gains 
dwindle and vanish between his fingers. A reader, on the 
other hand, must check the desire for learning at the out- 
set; if knowledge sticks to him well and good, but to go in 
pursuit of it, to read on a system, to become a specialist 
or an authority, is very apt to kill what it suits us to con- 
sider the more humane passion for pure and disinterested 

In spite of all this we can easily conjure up a picture 
which does service for the bookish man and raises a smile 
at his expense. We conceive a pale, attenuated figure in a 
dressing-gown, lost in speculation, unable to lift a kettle 
from the hob, or address a lady without blushing, ignorant 
of the daily news, though versed in the catalogues of the 
second-hand booksellers, in whose dark premises he spends 
the hours of sunlight — a delightful character, no doubt, in 
his crabbed simplicity, but not in the least resembling that 
other to whom we would direct attention. For the true 
reader is essentially young. He is a man of intense curiosity; 
of ideas; open minded and communicative, to whom reading 
is more of the nature of brisk exercise in the open air than of 
sheltered study; he trudges the high road, he climbs higher 
and higher upon the hills until the atmosphere is almost 
too fine to breathe in; to him it is not a sedentary pursuit 
at all. 

1 Times Literary Supplement, November 30, 1 9 1 6. 


But, apart from general statements, it would not be hard 
to prove by an assembly of facts that the great season for 
reading is the season between the ages of eighteen and 
twenty-four. The bare list of what is read then fills the heart 
of older people with despair. It is not only that we read so 
many books, but that we had such books to read. If we wish 
to refresh our memories, let us take down one of those old 
notebooks which we have all, at one time or another, had a 
passion for beginning. Most of the pages are blank, it is true; 
but at the beginning we shall find a certain number very 
beautifully covered with a strikingly legible hand-writing. 
Here we have written down the names of great writers in 
their order of merit; here we have copied out fine passages 
from the classics; here are lists of books to be read; and here, 
most interesting of all, lists of books that have actually been 
read, as the reader testifies with some youthful vanity by a 
dash of red ink. We will quote a list of the books that some 
one read in a past January at the age of twenty, most of 
them probably for the first time. i. Rhoda Fleming, 2. The 
Shaving of Shagpat. 3. Tom Jones. 4. The Laodicean. 5. Dewey's 
Psychology. 6. The Book of Job. 7. Webbe's Discourse ofPoesie. 
8. The Duchess of Malfi. 9. The Revenger's Tragedy. And so he 
goes on from month to month, until, as such lists will, it 
suddenly stops in the month of June. But if we follow the 
reader through his months it is clear that he can have done 
practically nothing but read. Elizabethan literature is gone 
through with some thoroughness; he read a great deal of 
Webster, Browning, Shelley, Spenser, and Gongreve; Pea- 
cock he read from start to finish; and most of Jane Austen's 
novels two or three times over. He read the whole of Mere- 
dith, the whole of Ibsen, and a little of Bernard Shaw. We 
may be fairly certain, too, that the time not spent in reading 
was spent in some stupendous argument in which the Greeks 
were pitted against the moderns, romance against realism, 
Racine against Shakespeare, until the lights were seen to 
have grown pale in the dawn. 

The old lists are there to make us smile and perhaps to 
sigh a little, but we would give much to recall also the mood 



in which this orgy of reading was done. Happily, this reader 
was no prodigy, and with a little thought we can most of us 
recall the stages at least of our own initiation. The books we 
read in childhood, having purloined them from some shelf 
supposed to be inaccessible, have something of the unreality 
and awfulness of a stolen sight of the dawn coming over 
quiet fields when the household is asleep. Peeping between 
the curtains we see strange shapes of misty trees which we 
hardly recognize, though we may remember them all our 
lives; for children have a strange premonition of what is to 
come. But the later reading of which the above list is an 
example is quite a different matter. For the first time, per- 
haps, all restrictions have been removed, we can read what 
we like; libraries are at our command, and, best of all, 
friends who find themselves in the same position. For days 
upon end we do nothing but read. It is a time of extra- 
ordinary excitement and exaltation. We seem to rush about 
recognizing heroes. There is a sort of wonderment in our 
minds that we ourselves are really doing this, and mixed 
with it an absurd arrogance and desire to show our familiar- 
ity with the greatest human beings who have ever lived in 
the world. The passion for knowledge is then at its keenest, 
or at least most confident, and we have, too, an intense 
singleness of mind which the great writers gratify by making 
it appear that they are at one with us in their estimate of 
what is good in life. And as it is necessary to hold one's own 
against some one who has adopted Pope, let us say, instead 
of Sir Thomas Browne, for a hero, we conceive a deep 
affection for these men, and feel that we know them not as 
other people know them, but privately by ourselves. We are 
fighting under their leadership, and almost in the light of 
their eyes. So we haunt the old bookshops and drag home 
folios and quartos, Euripides in wooden boards, and Vol- 
taire in eighty-nine volumes octavo. 

But these lists are curious documents, in that they seem to 
include scarcely any of the contemporary writers. Meredith 
and Hardy and Henry James were of course alive when this 
reader came to them, but they were already accepted 




among the classics. There is no man of his own generation 
who influences him as Carlyle, or Tennyson, or Ruskin 
influenced the young of their day. And this we believe to be 
very characteristic of youth, for unless there is some ad- 
mitted giant he will have nothing to do with the smaller 
men, although they deal with the world he lives in. He will 
rather go back to the classics, and consort entirely with 
minds of the very first order. For the time being he holds 
himself aloof from all the activities of men, and, looking at 
them from a distance, judges them with superb severity. 

Indeed, one of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a 
sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our 
place among them. We should like to think that we keep 
our standard as high as ever; but we certainly take more 
interest in the writings of our contemporaries and pardon 
their lack of inspiration for the sake of something that brings 
them nearer to us. It is even arguable that we get actually 
more from the living, although they may be much inferior, 
than from the dead. In the first place there can be no secret 
vanity in reading our contemporaries, and the kind of 
admiration which they inspire is extremely warm and 
genuine because in order to give way to our belief in them 
we have often to sacrifice some very respectable prejudice 
which does us credit. We have also to find our own reasons 
for what we like and dislike, which acts as a spur to our 
attention, and is the best way of proving that we have read 
the classics with understanding. 

Thus to stand in a great bookshop crammed with books 
so new that their pages almost stick together, and the gilt on 
their backs is still fresh, has an excitement no less delightful 
than the old excitement of the second-hand bookstall. It 
is not perhaps so exalted. But the old hunger to know what 
the immortals thought has given place to a far more tolerant 
curiosity to know what our own generation is thinking. 
What do living men and women feel, what are their houses 
like and what clothes do they wear, what money have they 
and what food do they eat, what do they love and hate, what 
do they see of the surrounding world, and what is the dream 



that fills the spaces of their active lives? They tell us all these 
things in their books. In them we can see as much both of the 
mind and of the body of our time as we have eyes for seeing. 
When such a spirit of curiosity has fully taken hold of us, 
the dust will soon lie thick upon the classics unless some 
necessity forces us to read them. For the living voices are, 
after all, the ones we understand the best. We can treat them 
as we treat our equals; they are guessing our riddles, and, 
what is perhaps more important, we understand their jokes. 
And we soon develop another taste, unsatisfied by the great 
— not a valuable taste, perhaps, but certainly a very pleasant 
possession — the taste for bad books. Without committing 
the indiscretion of naming names we know which authors 
can be trusted to produce yearly (for happily they are 
prolific) a novel, a book of poems or essays, which affords us 
indescribable pleasure. We owe a great deal to bad books; 
indeed, we come to count their authors and their heroes 
among those figures who play so large a part in our silent 
life. Something of the same sort happens in the case of the 
memoir writers and autobiographers, who have created 
almost a fresh branch of literature in our age. They are not 
all of them important people, but strangely enough, only 
the most important, the dukes and the statesmen, are ever 
really dull. The men and women who set out, with no 
excuse except perhaps that they saw the Duke of Wellington 
once, to confide to us their opinions, their quarrels, their 
aspirations, and their diseases, generally end by becoming, 
for the time at least, actors in those private dramas with 
which we beguile our solitary walks and our sleepless hours. 
Refine all this out of our consciousness and we should be 
poor indeed. And then there are the books of facts and 
history, books about bees and wasps and industries and gold 
mines and Empresses and diplomatic intrigues, about rivers 
and savages, trade unions, and Acts of Parliament, which we 
always read and always, alas! forget. Perhaps we are not 
making out a good case for a bookshop when we have to 
confess that it gratifies so many desires which have appar- 
ently nothing to do with literature. But let us remember 



that here we have a literature in the making. From these 
new books our children will select the one or two by which 
we shall be known for ever. Here, if we could recognize it, 
lies some poem, or novel, or history which will stand up and 
speak with other ages about our age when we lie prone and 
silent as the crowd of Shakespeare's day is silent and lives 
for us only in the pages of his poetry. 

This we believe to be true; and yet it is oddly difficult in 
the case of new books to know which are the real books and 
what it is that they are telling us, and which are the stuffed 
books which will come to pieces when they have lain about 
for a year or two. We can see that there are many books, and 
we are frequently told that every one can write nowadays. 
That may be true; yet we do not doubt that at the heart of 
this immense volubility, this flood and foam of language, 
this irreticence and vulgarity and triviality, there lies the 
heat of some great passion which only needs the accident of 
a brain more happily turned than the rest to issue in a shape 
which will last from age to age. It should be our delight to 
watch this turmoil, to do battle with the ideas and visions 
of our own time, to seize what we can use, to kill what we 
consider worthless, and above all to realize that we must be 
generous to the people who are giving shape as best they 
can to the ideas within them. No age of literature is so little 
submissive to authority as ours, so free from the dominion of 
the great; none seems so wayward with its gift of reverence, 
or so volatile in its experiments. It may well seem, even to 
the attentive, that there is no trace of school or aim in the 
work of our poets and novelists. But the pessimist is inevit- 
able, and he shall not persuade us that our literature is dead, 
or prevent us from feeling how true and vivid a beauty 
flashes out as the young writers draw together to form their 
new vision, the ancient words of the most beautiful of living 
languages. Whatever we may have learnt from reading the 
classics we need now in order to judge the work of our con- 
temporaries, for whenever there is life in them they will be 
casting their net out over some unknown abyss to snare new 
shapes, and we must throw our imaginations after them if 



we are to accept with understanding the strange gifts they 
bring back to us. 

But if we need all our knowledge of the old writers in order 
to follow what the new writers are attempting, it is certainly 
true that we come from adventuring among new books 
with a far keener eye for the old. It seems that we should 
now be able to surprise their secrets; to look deep down into 
their work and see the parts come together, because we have 
watched the making of new books, and with eyes clear of 
prejudice can judge more truly what it is that they are 
doing, and what is good and what bad. We shall find, 
probably, that some of the great are less venerable than we 
thought them. Indeed, they are not so accomplished or so 
profound as some of our own time. But if in one or two cases 
this seems to be true, a kind of humiliation mixed with joy 
overcomes us in front of others. Take Shakespeare, or 
Milton, or Sir Thomas Browne. Our little knowledge of 
how things are done does not avail us much here, but it does 
lend an added zest to our enjoyment. Did we ever in our 
youngest days feel such amazement at their achievement as 
that which fills us now that we have sifted myriads of words 
and gone along uncharted ways in search of new forms for 
our new sensations? New books may be more stimulating 
and in some ways more suggestive than the old, but they 
do not give us that absolute certainty of delight which 
breathes through us when we come back again to Comus, or 
Lycidas, Urn Burial, or Antony and Cleopatra. Far be it from us 
to hazard any theory as to the nature of art. It may be that 
we shall never know more about it than we know by nature, 
and our longer experience of it teaches us this only — that of 
all our pleasures those we get from the great artists are 
indisputably among the best; and more we may not know. 
But, advancing no theory, we shall find one or two qualities 
in such works as these which we can hardly expect to find in 
books made within the span of our lifetime. Age itself may 
have an alchemy of its own. But this is true: you can read 
them as often as you will without finding that they have 
yielded any virtue and left a meaningless husk of words; and 



there is a complete finality about them. No cloud of sugges- 
tions hangs about them teasing us with a multitude of 
irrelevant ideas. But all our faculties are summoned to the 
task, as in the great moments of our own experience; and 
some consecration descends upon us from their hands which 
we return to life, feeling it more keenly and understanding 
it more deeply than before. 

Impassioned Prose 1 

WHEN he was still a boy, his own discrimination led 
De Quincey to doubt whether 'his natural vocation 
lay towards poetry'. He wrote poetry, eloquently and pro- 
fusely, and his poetry was praised; but even so he decided 
that he was no poet, and the sixteen volumes of his collected 
works are written entirely in prose. After the fashion of his 
time, he wrote on many subjects — on political economy, on 
philosophy, on history; he wrote essays and biographies and 
confessions and memoirs. But as we stand before the long 
row of his books and make, as we are bound to make after 
all these years, our own selection, the whole mass and range 
of these sixteen volumes seems to reduce itself to one sombre 
level in which hang a few splendid stars. He dwells in our 
memory because he could make phrases like 'trepidations 
of innumerable fugitives', because he could compose scenes 
like that of the laurelled coach driving into the midnight 
market-place, because he could tell stories like that of 
the phantom woodcutter heard by his brother on the 
desert island. And, if we examine our choice and give a 
reason for it, we have to confess that, prose writer though 
he is, it is for his poetry that we read him and not for his 

What could be more damaging, to him as writer, to us as 
readers, than this confession? For if the critics agree on any 
point it is on this, that nothing is more reprehensible than 
for a prose writer to write like a poet. Poetry is poetry and 
prose is prose — how often have we not heard that! Poetry 
has one mission and prose another. Prose, Mr. Binyon wrote 
the other day, 'is a medium primarily addressed to the 
intelligence, poetry to feeling and imagination'. And again, 
' the poetical prose has but a bastard kind of beauty, easily 
1 Times Literary Supplement, September 16, 1926. 


appearing overdressed'. It is impossible not to admit, in 
part at least, the truth of these remarks. Memory supplies 
but too many instances of discomfort, of anguish, when in 
the midst of sober prose suddenly the temperature rises, the 
rhythm changes, we go up with a lurch, come down with a 
bang, and wake, roused and angry. But memory supplies 
also a number of passages — in Browne, in Landor, in Gar- 
lyle, in Ruskin, in Emily Bronte — where there is no such 
jerk, no such sense (for this perhaps is at the root of our 
discomfort) of something unfused, unwrought, incongruous, 
and casting ridicule upon the rest. The prose writer has 
subdued his army of facts; he has brought them all under 
the same laws of perspective. They work upon our minds as 
poetry works upon them. We are not woken; we reach the 
next point — and it may well be highly commonplace — 
without any sense of strain. 

But, unfortunately for those who would wish to see a 
great many more things said in prose than are now thought 
proper, we live under the rule of the novelists. If we talk of 
prose we mean in fact prose fiction. And of all writers the 
novelist has his hands fullest of facts. Smith gets up, shaves, 
has his breakfast, taps his egg, reads The Times. How can we 
ask the panting, the perspiring, the industrious scribe with 
all this on his hands to modulate beautifully off into rhap- 
sodies about Time and Death and what the hunters are 
doing at the Antipodes? It would upset the whole propor- 
tions of his day. It would cast grave doubt upon his veracity. 
Moreover, the greatest of his order seem deliberately to 
prefer a method which is the antithesis of prose poetry. A 
shrug of the shoulders, a turn of the head, a few words 
spoken in a hurry at a moment of crisis — that is all. But the 
train has been laid so deep beneath page after page and 
chapter after chapter that the single word when it is spoken 
is enough to start an explosion. We have so lived and thought 
with these men and women that they need only raise a 
finger and it seems to reach the skies. To elaborate that 
gesture would be to spoil it. The whole tendency therefore 
of fiction is against prose poetry. The lesser novelists are not 



going to take risks which the greater deliberately avoid. 
They trust that, if only the egg is real and the kettle boils, 
stars and nightingales will somehow be thrown in by the 
imagination of the reader. And therefore all that side of the 
mind which is exposed in solitude they ignore. They ignore 
its thoughts, its rhapsodies, its dreams, with the result that 
the people of fiction bursting with energy on one side are 
atrophied on the other; while prose itself, so long in service 
to this drastic master, has suffered the same deformity, and 
will be fit, after another hundred years of such discipline, to 
write nothing but the immortal works of Bradshaw and 

But happily there are in every age some writers who 
puzzle the critics, who refuse to go in with the herd. They 
stand obstinately across the boundary lines, and do a greater 
service by enlarging and fertilizing and influencing than by 
their actual achievement, which, indeed, is often too eccen- 
tric to be satisfactory. Browning did a service of this kind 
to poetry. Peacock and Samuel Butler have both had an 
influence upon novelists which is out of all proportion to 
their own popularity. And one of De Quincey's claims to 
our gratitude, one of his main holds upon our interest, is 
that he was an exception and a solitary. He made a class for 
himself. He widened the choice for others. Faced with the 
usual problem of what to write, since write he must, he 
decided that with all his poetic sensibility he was not a poet. 
He lacked the fire and the concentration. Nor, again, was 
he a novelist. With immense powers of language at his 
command, he was incapable of a sustained and passionate 
interest in the affairs of other people. It was his disease, he 
said, 'to meditate too much and to observe too little'. He 
would follow a poor family who went marketing on a Satur- 
day night, sympathetically, but at a distance. He was 
intimate with no one. Then, again, he had an extraordinary 
gift for the dead languages, and a passion for acquiring 
knowledge of all kinds. Yet there was some quality in 
him which forbade him to shut himself up alone with his 
books, as such gifts seemed to indicate. The truth was 



that he dreamed — he was always dreaming. The faculty 
was his long before he took to eating opium. When 
he was a child he stood by his sister's dead body and 

a vault seemed to open in the zenith of the far blue sky, a 
shaft which ran up for ever. I, in spirit, rose as on billows 
that also ran up the shaft for ever; and the billows seemed 
to pursue the throne of God; but that also ran before us 
and fled away continually. 

The visions were of extreme vividness; they made life seem 
a little dull in comparison; they extended it, they completed 
it. But in what form was he to express this that was the most 
real part of his own existence? There was none ready made 
to his hand. He invented, as he claimed, 'modes of impas- 
sioned prose'. With immense elaboration and art he formed 
a style in which to express these 'visionary scenes derived 
from the world of dreams'. For such prose there were no 
precedents, he believed ; and he begged the reader to remem- 
ber ' the perilous difficulty ' of an attempt where ' a single 
false note, a single word in a wrong key, ruins the whole 

Added to that 'perilous difficulty' was another which is 
often forced upon the reader's attention. A prose writer may 
dream dreams and see visions, but they cannot be allowed to 
lie scattered, single, solitary upon the page. So spaced out 
they die. For prose has neither the intensity nor the self- 
sufficiency of poetry. It rises slowly off the ground; it must 
be connected on this side and on that. There must be some 
medium in which its ardours and ecstasies can float without 
incongruity, from which they receive support and impetus. 
Here was a difficulty which De Quincey often faced and 
often failed to solve. Many of his most tiresome and dis- 
figuring faults are the result of the dilemma into which his 
genius plunged him. There was something in the story before 
him which kindled his interest and quickened his powers. 
For example, the Spanish Military Nun, as she descends 
half starved and frozen from the Andes, sees before her a 
belt of trees which promises safety. As if De Quincey had 



himself reached that shelter and could breathe in safety, he 

broadens out — 

Oh! verdure of dark olive foliage, offered suddenly to 
fainting eyes, as if by some winged patriarchal herald of 
wrath relenting — solitary Arab's tent, rising with saintly 
signals of peace in the dreadful desert, must Kate indeed 
die even yet, whilst she sees but cannot reach you? Out- 
post on the frontier of man's dominions, standing within 
life, but looking out upon everlasting death, wilt thou 
hold up the anguish of thy mocking invitation only to 

Alas, how easy it is to rise, how dangerous to fall! He has 
Kate on his hands; he is half-way through with her story; 
he must rouse himself, he must collect himself, he must 
descend from these happy heights to the levels of ordinary 
existence. And, again and again, it is in returning to earth 
that De Quincey is undone. How is he to bridge the horrid 
transition? How is he to turn from an angel with wings of 
flame and eyes of fire to a gentleman in black who talks 
sense? Sometimes he makes a joke — it is generally painful. 
Sometimes he tells a story — it is always irrelevant. Most 
often he spreads himself out in a waste of verbosity, where 
any interest that there may have been peters out dismally 
and loses itself in the sand. We can read no more. 

It is tempting to say that De Quincey failed because he 
was not a novelist. He ought to have left Kate alone; he had 
not a novelist's sense of character and action. To a critic 
such formulas are helpful; unfortunately, they are often 
false. For in fact, De Quincey can convey character admir- 
ably; he is a master of the art of narrative once he has suc- 
ceeded (and the condition is indispensable for all writers) in 
adjusting the perspective to suit his own eyesight. It was a 
sight, it is true, that required a most curious rearrangement 
of the landscape. Nothing must come too close. A veil must 
be drawn over the multitudinous disorder of human affairs. 
It must always be possible, without distressing the reader, to 
allude to a girl as 'a prepossessing young female'. A mist 
must lie upon the human face. The hills must be higher and 
the distances bluer than they are in the world we know. He 



required, too, endless leisure and ample elbow-room. He 
wanted time to soliloquize and loiter; here to pick up some 
trifle and bestow upon it all his powers of analysis and 
decoration; here to brush aside such patient discrimination 
and widen and enlarge and amplify until nothing remains 
but the level sands and the immense sea. He wanted a 
subject that would allow him all possible freedom and yet 
possess enough emotional warmth to curb his inborn 

He found it, naturally, in himself. He was a born auto- 
biographer. If the Opium Eater remains his masterpiece, a 
longer and less perfect book, the Autobiographic Sketches, runs 
it very close. For here it is fitting that he should stand a little 
apart, should look back, under cover of his raised hand, at 
scenes which had almost melted into the past. His enemy> 
the hard fact, became cloudlike and supple under his hands. 
He was under no obligation to recite 'the old hackneyed 
roll-call, chronologically arranged, of inevitable facts in a 
man's life'. It was his object to record impressions, to render 
states of mind without particularizing the features of the 
precise person who had experienced them. A serene and 
lovely light lies over the whole of that distant prospect of 
his childhood. The house, the fields, the garden, even the 
neighbouring town of Manchester, all seem to exist, but 
far away on some island separated from us by a veil of blue. 
On this background, where no detail is accurately rendered, 
the little group of children and parents, the little island of 
home and garden, are all distinctly visible and yet as if they 
moved and had their being behind a veil. Upon the opening 
chapters rests the solemnity of a splendid summer's day, 
whose radiance, long since sunk, has something awful in it, 
in whose profound stillness sounds strangely reverberate — 
the sounds of hooves on the far-away high road, the sound 
of words like 'palm', the sound of that 'solemn wind, the 
saddest that ear ever heard', which was for ever to haunt 
the mind of the little boy who now heard it for the first 
time. Nor, so long as he keeps within the circle of the past, is 
it necessary that he should face the disagreeable necessity of 



waking. About the reality of childhood still hung some of the 
charm of illusion. If the peace is broken, it is by an appari- 
tion like that of the mad dog which passes and pauses with 
something of the terror of a dream. If he needs variety, he 
finds it in describing with a whimsical humour perfectly 
suited to the subject the raptures and miseries of childhood. 
He mocks; he dilates; he makes the very small very great; 
then he describes the war with the mill hands, the brothers' 
imaginary kingdoms, his brother's boast that he could walk 
upon the ceiling like a fly, with admirable particularity. He 
can rise easily and fall naturally here. Here too, given his 
own memories to work upon, he can exercise his extra- 
ordinary powers of description. He was never exact; he dis- 
liked glitter and emphasis; he sacrificed the showy triumphs 
of the art; but he had to perfection the gift of composition. 
Scenes come together under his hands like congregations of 
clouds which gently join and slowly disperse or hang 
solemnly still. So displayed before us we see the coaches 
gathering at the post office in all their splendour; the lady 
in the carriage to whom the news of victory brings only 
sorrow; the couple surprised on the road at midnight by the 
thunder of the mail coach and the threat of death; Lamb 
asleep in his chair; Ann disappearing for ever into the dark 
London night. All these scenes have something of the sound- 
lessness and the lustre of dreams. They swim up to the 
surface, they sink down again into the depths. They have, 
into the bargain, the strange power of growing in our minds, 
so that it is always a surprise to come upon them again and 
see what, in the interval, our minds have done to alter and 

Meanwhile, all these scenes compose an autobiography of 
a kind, but of a kind which is so unusual that one is forced 
to ask what one has learnt from it about De Quincey in the 
end. Of facts, scarcely anything. One has been told only 
what De Quincey wished us to know; and even that has 
been chosen for the sake of some adventitious quality — as 
that it fitted in here, or was the right colour to go there — 
never for its truth. But nevertheless there grows upon us a 



curious sense of intimacy. It is an intimacy with the mind, 
and not with the body; yet we cannot help figuring to our- 
selves, as the rush of eloquence flows, the fragile little body, 
the fluttering hands, the glowing eyes, the alabaster cheeks, 
the glass of opium on the table. We can guess that no one so 
gifted with silver speech, so prone to plunge into reverie and 
awe, held his own imperturbably among his fellows. We can 
guess at his evasion and unpunctualities; at the hordes of old 
papers that littered his room; at the courtesy which excused 
his inability to abide by the ordinary rules of life; at the 
overmastering desire that possessed him to wander and 
dream on the hills alone; at the seasons of gloom and irri- 
tability with which he paid for that exquisite fineness of ear 
that tuned each word to harmony and set each paragraph 
flowing and following like the waves of the sea. All this we 
know or guess. But it is odd to reflect how little, after all, we 
have been admitted to intimacy. In spite of the fact that he 
talks of confessions and calls the work by which he set most 
store Suspiria de Profundis, he is always self-possessed, secre- 
tive, and composed. His confession is not that he has sinned 
but that he has dreamed. Hence it comes about that his 
most perfect passages are not lyrical but descriptive. They 
are not cries of anguish which admit us to closeness and 
sympathy; they are descriptions of states of mind in which, 
often, time is miraculously prolonged and space miracu- 
lously expanded. When in the Suspiria de Profundis he tries to 
rise straight from the ground and to achieve in a few pages 
without prelude or sequence his own peculiar effects of 
majesty and distance, his force is not sufficient to bear him 
the whole distance. There juts up a comment upon the rules 
of Eton, a note to remind us that this refers to the tobacco 
States of North America, in the midst of ' Levana and Our 
Ladies of Sorrow', which puts their sweet- tongued phrases 
sadly out of countenance. 

But if he was not a lyric writer, he was undoubtedly a 
descriptive writer, a reflective writer, who with only prose 
at his command — an instrument hedged about with restric- 
tions, debased by a thousand common uses — made his way 



into precincts which are terribly difficult to approach. The 
breakfast table, he seems to say, is only a temporary appari- 
tion which we can think into non-existence, or invest with 
such associations that even its mahogany legs have their 
charm. To sit cheek by jowl with our fellows cramped up 
together is distasteful, indeed repulsive. But draw a little 
apart, see people in groups, as outlines, and they become at 
once memorable and full of beauty. Then it is not the actual 
sight or sound itself that matters, but the reverberations 
that it makes as it travels through our minds. These are often 
to be found far away, strangely transformed; but it is only 
by gathering up and putting together these echoes and 
fragments that we arrive at the true nature of our experi- 
ence. So thinking, he altered slightly the ordinary relation- 
ships. He shifted the values of familiar things. And this he 
did in prose, which makes us wonder whether, then, it is 
quite so limited as the critics say, and ask further whether 
the prose writer, the novelist, might not capture fuller and 
finer truths than are now his aim if he ventured into those 
shadowy regions where De Quincey has been before him. 


Life and the Novelist 1 

THE novelist — it is his distinction and his danger — is 
terribly exposed to life. Other artists, partially at least, 
withdraw; they shut themselves up for weeks alone with a 
dish of apples and a paint-box, or a roll of music paper and 
a piano. When they emerge it is to forget and distract them- 
selves. But the novelist never forgets and is seldom distracted. 
He fills his glass and lights his cigarette, he enjoys presum- 
ably all the pleasures of talk and table, but always with a 
sense that he is being stimulated and played upon by the 
subject-matter of his art. Taste, sound, movement, a few 
words here, a gesture there, a man coming in, a woman 
going out, even the motor that passes in the street or the 
beggar who shuffles along the pavement, and all the reds 
and blues and lights and shades of the scene claim his atten- 
tion and rouse his curiosity. He can no more cease to receive 
impressions than a fish in mid-ocean can cease to let the 
water rush through his gills. 

But if this sensibility is one of the conditions of the novel- 
ist's life, it is obvious that all writers whose books survive 
have known how to master it and make it serve their pur- 
poses. They have finished the wine and paid the bill and 
gone off, alone, into some solitary room where, with toil 
and pause, in agony (like Flaubert), with struggle and rush, 
tumultuously (like Dostoevsky) they have mastered their 
perceptions, hardened them, and changed them into the 
fabrics of their art. 

So drastic is the process of selection that in its final state 
we can often find no trace of the actual scene upon which 
the chapter was based. For in that solitary room, whose 
door the critics are for ever trying to unlock, processes of 
the strangest kind are gone through. Life is subjected to a 
1 New York Herald Tribune, November 7, 1926. 


thousand disciplines and exercises. It is curbed; it is killed. 
It is mixed with this, stiffened with that, brought into con- 
trast with something else; so that when we get our scene at 
a cafe a year later the surface signs by which we remembered 
it have disappeared. There emerges from the mist something 
stark, something formidable and enduring, the bone and 
substance upon which our rush of indiscriminating emotion 
was founded. 

Of these two processes, the first — to receive impressions — 
is undoubtedly the easier, the simpler, and the pleasanter. 
And it is quite possible, provided one is gifted with a suffi- 
ciently receptive temperament and a vocabulary rich 
enough to meet its demands, to make a book out of this 
preliminary emotion alone. Three-quarters of the novels 
that appear to-day are concocted of experience to which no 
discipline, except the mild curb of grammer and the occa- 
sional rigours of chapter divisions, has been applied. Is 
Miss Stern's A Deputy Was King another example of this 
class of writing, has she taken her material away with 
her into solitude, or is it neither one nor the other, but 
an incongruous mixture of soft and hard, transient and 

A Deputy Was King Continues the story of the Rakonitz 
family which was begun some years ago in The Matriarch. It 
is a welcome reappearance, for the Rakonitz family is a 
gifted and cosmopolitan family with the admirable quality, 
so rare now in English fiction, of belonging to no particular 
sect. No parish boundary contains them. They overflow the 
continent. They are to be found in Italy and Austria, in 
Paris and Bohemia. If they lodge temporarily in some 
London studio they are not condemning themselves thereby 
to wear forever the livery of Chelsea, or Bloomsbury, or 
Kensington. Abundantly nourished on a diet of rich meats 
and rare wines, expensively but exquisitely clothed, enviably 
though inexplicably flush of ready money, no restraint of 
class or convention lies upon them, if we except the year 
1 921; it is essential that they should be up to date. They 
dance, they marry, they live with this man or with that; 



they bask in the Italian sun; they swarm in and out of each 
other's houses and studios, gossiping, quarrelling, making it 
up again. For, after all, besides the constraint of fashion, 
they lie, consciously or unconsciously, under the bond of 
family. They have that Jewish tenacity of affection which 
common hardship has bred in an outcast race. Hence, in 
spite of their surface gregariousness, they are fundamentally 
loyal to each other underneath. Toni and Val and Loraine 
may quarrel and tear each other asunder publicly, but in 
private the Rakonitz women are indissolubly united. The 
present instalment of the family history, which, though it 
introduces the Goddards and relates the marriage of Toni 
and Giles Goddard, is really the history of a family, and not 
of an episode, pauses, for the time presumably, in an Italian 
villa provided with seventeen bedrooms, so that uncles, 
aunts, cousins can all come to lodge there. For Toni God- 
dard, with all her fashion and modernity, would rather 
shelter uncles and aunts than entertain emperors, and a 
second cousin whom she has not seen since she was a child 
is a prize above rubies. 

From such materials surely a good novel might be made — 
that is what one catches oneself saying, before a hundred 
pages are finished. And this voice, which is not altogether 
our own, but the voice of that dissentient spirit which may 
split off and take a line of its own as we read, should be 
cross-examined instantly, lest its hints should spoil the 
pleasure of the whole. What, then, does it mean by insinuat- 
ing this doubtful, grudging sentiment in the midst of our 
general well-being? Hitherto nothing has interfered with our 
enjoyment. Short of being a Rakonitz oneself, of actually 
taking part in one of those 'diamonded evenings', dancing, 
drinking, flirting with the snow upon the roof and the 
gramophone braying out 'It's moonlight in Kalua', short 
of seeing Betty and Colin ' slightly grotesque advancing . . . 
in full panoply; velvet spread like a huge inverted cup round 
Betty's feet, as she minced over the pure, sparkling strip of 
snow, the absurd tangle of plumes on Colin's helmet' — 
short of taking hold of all this glitter and fantasy with one's 



own fingers and thumbs, what is better than Miss Sterne's 
report of it? 

The grudging voice will concede that it is all very bril- 
liant; will admit that a hundred pages have flashed by like 
a hedge seen from an express train; but will reiterate that 
for all that something is wrong. A man can elope with a 
woman without our noticing it. That is a proof that there 
are no values. There is no shape for these apparitions. Scene 
melts into scene; person into person. People rise out of a fog 
of talk, and sink back into talk again. They are soft and 
shapeless with words. There is no grasping them. 

The charge has substance in it, because it is true, when 
we consider it, that Giles Goddard can run off with Loraine, 
and it is to us as if somebody had got up and gone out of the 
room — a matter of no importance. We have been letting 
ourselves bask in appearances. All this representation of the 
movement of life has sapped our imaginative power. We 
have sat receptive and watched, with our eyes rather than 
with our minds, as we do at the cinema, what passes on the 
screen in front of us. When we want to use what we have 
learnt about one of the characters to urge them through 
some crisis we realize that we have no steam up; no energy 
at our disposal. How they dressed, what they ate, the slang 
they used — we know all that; but not what they are. For 
what we know about these people has been given us (with 
one exception) by following the methods of life. The char- 
acters are built up by observing the incoherence, the fresh 
natural sequences of a person who, wishing to tell the story 
of a friend's life in talk, breaks off a thousand times to bring 
in something fresh, to add something forgotten, so that in the 
end, though one may feel that one has been in the presence 
of life, the particular life in question remains vague. This 
hand-to-mouth method, this ladling out of sentences which 
have the dripping brilliance of words that live upon real 
lips, is admirable for one purpose, disastrous for another. All 
is fluent and graphic; but no character or situation emerges 
cleanly. Bits of extraneous matter are left sticking to the 
edges. For all their brilliancy the scenes are clouded; 



the crises are blurred. A passage of description will 
make both the merit and the defect of the method clear. 
Miss Sterne wants us to realize the beauty of a Chinese 

Gazing at it, you might think you had never seen em- 
broidery before, for it was the very climax of all that was 
brilliant and exotic. The flower-petals were worked in a 
flaming pattern round the broad bands of kingfisher blue 
embroidery; and again round each oval plaque that was 
woven of a silvery heron with a long green beak, and 
behind his outstretched wings a rainbow. All among the 
silver arabesques, butterflies were delicately poised, golden 
butterflies and black butterflies, and butterflies that were 
gold and black. The closer you looked the more there was 
to see; intricate markings on the butterfly wings, purple 
and grass-green and apricot . . . 

As if we had not enough to see already, she goes on to 
add how there were tiny stamens springing from every 
flower, and circles ringing the eye of each separate stork, 
until the Chinese coat wobbles before our eyes and merges 
in one brilliant blur. 

The same method applied to people has the same result. 
Quality is added to quality, fact to fact, until we cease to 
discriminate and our interest is suffocated under a plethora 
of words. For it is true of every object — coat or human 
being — that the more one looks the more there is to see. The 
writer's task is to take one thing and let it stand for twenty: 
a task of danger and difficulty; but only so is the reader 
relieved of the swarm and confusion of life and branded 
effectively with the particular aspect which the writer wishes 
him to see. That Miss Sterne has other tools at her disposal, 
and could use them if she liked, is hinted now and again, 
and is revealed for a moment in the brief chapter describing 
the death of the matriarch, Anastasia Rakonitz. Here sud- 
denly the flow of words seems to darken and thicken. We are 
aware of something beneath the surface, something left 
unsaid for us to find out for ourselves and think over. The 
two pages in which we are told how the old woman died 
asking for gooseliver sausage and a tortoise-shell comb, short 




though they are, hold, to my thinking, twice the substance 
of any other thirty pages in the book. 

These remarks bring me back to the question with which 
I started: the relation of the novelist to life and what it 
should be. That he is terribly exposed to life A Deputy Was 
King proves once more. He can sit and watch life and make 
his book out of the very foam and effervescence of his emo- 
tions; or he can put his glass down, retire to his room and 
subject his trophy to those mysterious processes by which 
life becomes, like the Chinese coat, able to stand by itself — 
a sort of impersonal miracle. But in either case he is faced 
by a problem which does not afflict the workers in any other 
rts to the same extent. Stridently, clamorously, life is for- 
ever pleading that she is the proper end of fiction and that 
the more he sees of her and catches of her the better his book 
will be. She does not add, however, that she is grossly im- 
pure; and that the side she flaunts uppermost is often, for 
the novelist, of no value whatever. Appearance and move- 
ment are the lures she trails to entice him after her, as if 
these were her essence, and by catching them he gained his 
goal. So believing, he rushes feverishly in her wake, ascer- 
tains what fox-trot is being played at the Embassy, what 
skirt is being worn in Bond Street, worms and winds his way 
into the last flings of topical slang, and imitates to perfection 
the last toss of colloquial jargon. He becomes terrified more 
than anything of falling behind the times: his chief concern 
is that the thing described shall be fresh from the shell with 
the down on its head. 

This kind of work requires great dexterity and nimble- 
ness, and gratifies a real desire. To know the outside of one's 
age, its dresses and its dances and its catchwords, has an 
interest and even a value which the spiritual adventures of a 
curate, or the aspirations of a high-minded schoolmistress, 
solemn as they are, for the most part lack. It might well 
be claimed, too, that to deal with the crowded dance of 
modern life so as to produce the illusion of reality needs far 
higher literary skill than to write a serious essay upon the 
poetry of John Donne or the novels of M. Proust. The 



novelist, then, who is a slave to life and concocts his books 
out of the froth of the moment is doing something difficult, 
something which pleases, something which, if you have a 
mind that way, may even instruct. But his work passes as 
the year 1921 passes, as fox-trots pass, and in three years' 
time looks as dowdy and dull as any other fashion which has 
served its turn and gone its way. 

On the other hand, to retire to one's study in fear of life 
is equally fatal. It is true that plausible imitations of Addison, 
say, can be manufactured in the quiet there, but they are as 
brittle as plaster and as insipid. To survive, each sentence 
must have, at its heart, a little spark of fire, and this, what- 
ever the risk, the novelist must pluck with his own hands 
from the blaze. His state then is a precarious one. He must 
expose himself to life; he must risk the danger of being led 
away and tricked by her deceitfulness; he must seize her 
treasure from her and let her trash run to waste. But at a 
certain moment he must leave the company and withdraw, 
alone, to that mysterious room where his body is hardened 
and fashioned into permanence by processes which, if they 
elude the critic, hold for him so profound a fascination. 


On Rereading Meredith 1 

THIS new study 2 of Meredith is not a text-book to be 
held in one hand while in the other you hold The 
Shaving of Shagpat or Modern Love; it is addressed to those 
who have so far solved the difficulties of the Master that 
they wish to make up their minds as to his final position in 
English literature. The book should do much to crystallize 
opinion upon Meredith, if only because it will induce many 
people to read him again. For Mr. Crees has written in a 
spirit of enthusiasm which makes it easy to do so. He sum- 
mons Diana and Willoughby Patterne and Richard Feverel 
from the shelves where they have fallen a little silent lately 
and in a moment the air is full of high-pitched, resonant 
voices, speaking the unmistakable language of metaphor, 
epigram, and fantastic poetic dialogue. Some readers, to 
judge from our own case, will feel a momentary qualm, as 
at meeting after the lapse of years some hero so ardently 
admired once that his eccentricities and foibles are now 
scarcely tolerable; they seem to preserve too well the faults 
of our own youth. Further, in the presence of so faithful an 
admirer as Mr. Crees we may be reminded of some inter- 
vening disloyalties. It was not Thackeray or Dickens or 
George Eliot who seriously tempted us from our allegiance; 
but can we say the same of the great Russians? Oddly 
enough, when Mr. Crees is taking Meredith's measure by 
comparing him with his contemporaries he makes no men- 
tion of Turgenev, Tolstoy, or Dostoevsky. But it was Fathers 
and Sons, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment that seduced 
multitudes of the faithful and, worse still, seemed for the 
time to reduce Meredith to an insular hero bred and cher- 
ished for the delight of connoisseurs in some sheltered corner 
of a Victorian hothouse. 

1 Times Literary Supplement, July 25, 1918. 
2 George Meredith: A Study of his Works and Personality, by J. H. E. Crees. 



The Russians might well overcome us, for they seemed to 
possess an entirely new conception of the novel and one that 
was larger, saner, and much more profound than ours. It 
was one that allowed human life in all its width and depth, 
with every shade of feeling and subtlety of thought, to flow 
into their pages without the distortion of personal eccen- 
tricity or mannerism. Life was too serious to be juggled with. 
It was too important to be manipulated. Could any English 
novel survive in the furnace of that overpowering sincerity? 
For some time the verdict seemed to go tacitly against 
Meredith. His fine phrases, his perpetual imagery, the 
superabundant individuality which so much resembled an 
overweening egotism seemed to be the very stuff to perish in 
that uncompromising flame. Perhaps some of us went as far 
as to believe that the process had already been accomplished 
and that it was useless to open books in which you would 
find nothing but charred bones and masses of contorted 
wire. The poems, Modern Love, Love in the Valley, and some of 
the shorter pieces survived the ordeal more successfully and 
did perhaps keep alive that latent enthusiasm upon which 
Mr. Crees now blows with the highest praise that it is 
possible to bestow upon literature. He does not scruple to 
compare Meredith with Shakespeare. Shakespeare alone, 
he says, could have written the 'Diversion Played upon a 
Penny Whistle' in Richard Feverel. Meredith 'illustrates 
better than any since Shakespeare that impetuous mental 
energy which Matthew Arnold deemed the source of our 
literary greatness'. One might even infer from some state- 
ments that Meredith was the undisputed equal of the 
greatest of poets. 'No man has ever been endowed with 
richer gifts.' He was the possessor of 'in some ways the most 
consummate intellect that has ever been devoted to litera- 
ture'. These, moreover, are not the irresponsible flings of a 
momentary enthusiasm but the considered opinion of a man 
who writes with ability and critical insight and has reached 
his superlatives by intelligible degrees of appreciation. 
We should perhaps alter his scale by putting Donne in the 
place of Shakespeare; but however we may regulate our 



superlatives he creates the right mood for reading Meredith 

The right mood for reading Meredith should have a large 
proportion of enthusiasm in it, for Meredith aims at, and 
when he is successful has his dwelling in, the very heart of 
the emotions. There, indeed, we have one of the chief 
differences between him and the Russians. They accumu- 
late; they accept ugliness; they seek to understand; they 
penetrate further and further into the human soul with their 
terrible power of sustained insight and their undeviating 
reverence for truth. But Meredith takes truth by storm; he 
takes it with a phrase, and his best phrases are not mere 
phrases but are compact of many different observations, 
fused into one and flashed out in a line of brilliant light. It is 
by such phrases that we get to know his characters. They 
come to mind at once in thinking of them. Sir Willoughby 
'has a leg'. Clara Middleton 'carries youth like a flag'. 
Vernon Whitford is ' Phoebus Apollo turned fasting Friar ' ; 
every one who has read the novels holds a store of such 
phrases in his memory. But the same process is applied not 
only to single characters but to large and complicated 
situations where a number of different states of mind are 
represented. Here, too, he wishes to crush the truth out in a 
series of metaphors or a string of epigrams with as little 
resort to dull fact as may be. Then, indeed, the effort is pro- 
digious, and the confusion often chaotic. But the failure 
arises from the enormous scope of his ambition. Let us 
suppose that he has to describe a tea party; he will begin by 
destroying everything by which it is easy to recognize a tea 
party — chairs, tables, cups, and the rest; he will represent 
the scene merely by a ring on a finger and a plume passing 
the window. But into the ring and plume he puts such pas- 
sion and character and such penetrating rays of vision play 
about the denuded room that we seem to be in possession of 
all the details as if a painstaking realist had described each 
one of them separately. To have produced this effect as often 
as Meredith has done so is an enormous feat. That is the 
way, as one trusts at such moments, that the art of fiction 



will develop. For such beauty and such high emotional 
excitement it is well worth while to exchange the solidity 
which is the result of knowing the day of the week, how the 
ladies are dressed, and by what series of credible events the 
great crisis was accomplished. But the doubt will suggest 
itself whether we are not sacrificing something of greater 
importance than mere solidity. We have gained moments of 
astonishing intensity; we have gained a high level of sus- 
tained beauty; but perhaps the beauty is lacking in some 
quality that makes it a satisfying beauty? 'My love', Mere- 
dith wrote, 'is for epical subjects — nor for cobwebs in a 
putrid corner, though I know the fascination of unravelling 
them.' He avoids ugliness as he avoids dullness. 'Sheer 
realism', he wrote, 'is at best the breeder of the dungfly.' 
Sheer romance breeds an insect more diaphanous, but it 
tends perhaps to be even more heartless than the dungfly. 
A touch of realism — or is it a touch of something more akin 
to sympathy?— would have kept the Meredith hero from 
being the honourable but tedious gentleman that, with 
deference to Mr. Crees, we have always found him. It would 
have charged the high mountain air of his books with the 
greater variety of clouds. 

But, for good or for ill, Meredith has the habit of noble- 
ness ingrained in him. No modern writer, for example, has 
so completely ignored the colloquial turns of speech and 
cast his dialogue in sentences that could without impro- 
priety have been spoken by Queen Elizabeth in person. 
'Out of my sight, I say!' 'I went to him of my own will to 
run from your heartlessness, mother — that I call mother!' 
are two examples found upon turning two pages of The 
Tragic Comedians. That is his natural pitch, although we may 
guess that the long indifference of the public increased his 
tendency to the strained and the artificial. For this, among 
other reasons, it is easy to complain that his world is an 
aristocratic world, strictly bounded, thinly populated, a 
little hard-hearted, and not to be entered by the poor, the 
vulgar, the stupid, or that very common and interesting 
individual who is a mixture of all three. 



And yet there can be no doubt that, even judged by his 
novels alone, Meredith remains a great writer. The doubt 
is rather whether he can be called a great novelist; whether, 
indeed, anyone to whom the technique of novel writing had 
so much that was repulsive in it can excel compared with 
those who are writing, not against the grain, but with it. He 
struggles to escape, and the chapters of amazing but fruitless 
energy which he produces in his struggle to escape are the 
true obstacles to the enjoyment of Meredith. What, we ask, 
is he struggling against? What is he striving for? Was he, 
perhaps, a dramatist born out of due time — an Elizabethan 
sometimes, and sometimes, as the last chapters of The Egoist 
suggest, a dramatist of the Restoration? Like a dramatist, he 
flouts probability, disdains coherency, and lives from one 
high moment to the next. His dialogue often seems to crave 
the relief of blank verse. And for all his analytic industry in 
the dissection of character, he creates not the living men and 
women who justify modern fiction, but superb conceptions 
who have more of the general than of the 'particular in them. 
There is a large and beautiful conception of womanhood in 
Diana rather than a single woman; there is the fervour of 
romantic love in Richard Feverel, but the faces of the lovers 
are dim in the rosy light. In this lies both the strength and 
the weakness of his books, but, if the weakness is at all of the 
kind we have indicated, the strength is of a nature to coun- 
terbalance it. His English power of imagination, with its 
immense audacity and fertility, his superb mastery of the 
great emotions of courage and love, his power of summoning 
nature into sympathy with man and of merging him in her 
vastness, his glory in all fine living and thinking — these are 
the qualities that give his conceptions their size and univer- 
sality. In these respects we must recognize his true descent 
from the greatest of English writers and his enjoyment of 
qualities that are expressed nowhere save in the master- 
pieces of our literature. 


The Anatomy of Fiction ' 

SOMETIMES at country fairs you may have seen a pro- 
fessor on a platform exhorting the peasants to come up 
and buy his wonder-working pills. Whatever their disease, 
whether of body or mind, he has a name for it and a cure; 
and if they hang back in doubt he whips out a diagram and 
points with a stick at different parts of the human anatomy, 
and gabbles so quickly such long Latin words that first one 
shyly stumbles forward and then another, and takes his 
bolus and carries it away and unwraps it secretly and swal- 
lows it in hope. ' The young aspirant to the art of fiction 
who knows himself to be an incipient realist', Mr. Hamilton 
vociferates from his platform, 2 and the incipient realists 
advance and receive — for the professor is generous — five 
pills together with nine suggestions for home treatment. In 
other words they are given five ' review questions ' to answer, 
and are advised to read nine books or parts of books. ' i . 
Define the difference between realism and romance. 2. What 
are the advantages and disadvantages of the realistic method? 
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the roman- 
tic method?' — that is the kind of thing they work out at 
home, and with such success that a 'revised and enlarged 
edition' of the book has been issued on the tenth anniversary 
of the first publication. In America, evidently, Mr. Hamilton 
is considered a very good professor, and has no doubt a 
bundle of testimonials to the miraculous nature of his cures. 
But let us consider: Mr. Hamilton is not a professor; we are 
not credulous ploughboys; and fiction is not a disease. 

In England we have been in the habit of saying that 
fiction is an art. We are not taught to write novels; dissua- 

1 The Athenaeum, May 16, 191 9. 

2 Materials and Methods of Fiction, by Clayton Hamilton. With an 
Introduction by Brander Matthews. 



sion is our most usual incentive; and though perhaps the 
critics have ' deduced and formulated the general principles 
of the art of fiction', they have done their work as a good 
housemaid does hers; they have tidied up after the party is 
over. Criticism seldom or never applies to the problems of 
the present moment. On the other hand, any good novelist, 
whether he be dead or alive, has something to say about 
them, though it is said very indirectly, differently to different 
people, and differently at different stages of the same per- 
son's development. Thus, if anything is essential, it is essen- 
tial to do your reading with your own eyes. But, to tell the 
truth, Mr. Hamilton has sickened us of the didactic style. 
Nothing appears to be essential save perhaps an elementary 
knowledge of the A.B.G., and it is pleasant to remember that 
Henry James, when he took to dictation, dispensed even 
with that. Still, if you have a natural taste for books it is 
probable that after reading Emma, to take an instance, some 
reflections upon the art of Jane Austen may occur to you — 
how exquisitely one incident relieves another; how definitely, 
by not saying something, she says it; how surprising, there- 
fore, her expressive phrases when they come. Between the 
sentences, apart from the story, a little shape of some kind 
builds itself up. But learning from books is a capricious 
business at best, and the teaching so vague and changeable 
that in the end, far from calling books either 'romantic' or 
'realistic', you will be more inclined to think them, as you 
think people, very mixed, very distinct, very unlike one 
another. But this would never do for Mr. Hamilton. Accord- 
ing to him every work of art can be taken to pieces, and 
those pieces can be named and numbered, divided and sub- 
divided, and given their order of precedence, like the internal 
organs of a frog. Thus we learn how to put them together 
again — that is, according to Mr. Hamilton, we learn how 
to write. There is the complication, the major knot, and the 
explication; the inductive and the deductive methods; the 
kinetic and the static; the direct and the indirect with sub- 
divisions of the same; connotation, annotation, personal 
equation, and denotation; logical sequence and chrono- 



logical succession — all parts of the frog and all capable of 
further dissection. Take the case of 'emphasis' alone. There 
are eleven kinds of emphasis. Emphasis by terminal position, 
by initial position, by pause, by direct proportion, by in- 
verse proportion, by iteration, by antithesis, by surprise, by 
suspense — are you tired already? But consider the Americans. 
They have written one story eleven times over, with a 
different kind of emphasis in each. Indeed, Mr. Hamilton's 
book teaches us a great deal about the Americans. 

Still, as Mr. Hamilton uneasily perceives now and then, 
you may dissect your frog, but you cannot make it hop; 
there is, unfortunately, such a thing as life. Directions for 
imparting life to fiction are given, such as to ' train yourself 
rigorously never to be bored', and to cultivate 'a lively 
curiosity and a ready sympathy'. But it is evident that Mr. 
Hamilton does not like life, and, with such a tidy museum 
as his, who can blame him? He has found life very trouble- 
some, and, if you come to consider it, rather unnecessary; 
for, after all, there are books. But Mr. Hamilton's views on 
life are so illuminating that they must be given in his own 

Perhaps in the actual world we should never bother to 
converse with illiterate provincial people; and yet we do 
not feel it a waste of time and energy to meet them in the 
pages of Middle-march. For my own part, I have always, in 
actual life, avoided meeting the sort of people that appear 
in Thackeray's Vanity Fair; and yet I find it not only 
interesting but profitable to associate with them through 
the entire extent of a rather lengthy novel. 

' Illiterate provincial people' — 'interesting but profitable' 
— ' waste of time and energy ' — now after much wandering 
and painful toil we are on the right track at last. For long 
it seemed that nothing could reward the American people 
for having written eleven themes upon the eleven kinds of 
emphasis. But now we perceive dimly that there is something 
to be gained by the daily flagellation of the exhausted brain. 
It is not a title; it has nothing to do with pleasure or with 
literature; but it appears that Mr. Hamilton and his indus- 



trious band see far off upon the horizon a circle of superior 
enlightenment to which, if only they can keep on reading 
long enough, they may attain. Every book demolished is a 
milestone passed. Books in foreign languages count twice 
over. And a book like this is of the nature of a dissertation to 
be sent up to the supreme examiner, who may be, for any- 
thing we know, the ghost of Matthew Arnold. Will Mr. 
Hamilton be admitted? Can they have the heart to reject 
anyone so ardent, so dusty, so worthy, so out of breath? 
Alas! look at his quotations; consider his comments upon 

'The murmuring of innumerable bees.' . . . The word 
innumerable, which denotes to the intellect merely 'in- 
capable of being numbered,' is, in this connection, made 
to suggest to the senses the murmuring of bees. 

The credulous ploughboy could have told him more than 
that. It is not necessary to quote what he says about ' magic 
casements' and the 'iniquity of oblivion'. Is there not, upon 
page 208, a definition of style? 

No; Mr. Hamilton will never be admitted; he and his 
disciples must toil for ever in the desert sand, and the circle 
of illumination will, we fear, grow fainter and farther upon 
their horizon. It is curious to find, after writing the above 
sentence, how little one is ashamed of being, where literature 
is concerned, an unmitigated snob. 


Gothic Romance 1 

IT says much for Miss Birkhead's 2 natural good sense that 
she has been able to keep her head where many people 
would have lost theirs. She has read a great many books 
without being suffocated. She has analysed a great many 
plots without being nauseated. Her sense of literature has 
not been extinguished by the waste-paper baskets full of old 
novels so courageously heaped on top of it. For her 'attempt 
to trace in outline the origin of the Gothic romance and the 
tale of terror' has necessarily led her to grope in basements 
and attics where the light is dim and the dust is thick. To 
trace the course of one strand in the thick skein of our 
literature is well worth doing. But perhaps Miss Birkhead 
would have increased the interest of her work if she had 
enlarged her scope to include some critical discussion of the 
aesthetic value of shock and terror, and had ventured some 
analysis of the taste which demands this particular stimulus. 
But her narrative is quite readable enough to supply the 
student with material for pushing the enquiry a little further. 
Since it is held that Gothic romance was introduced by 
Horace Walpole's Castle o/Otranto, in the year 1764, there is 
no need to confound it with the romance of Spenser or of 
Shakespeare. It is a parasite, an artificial commodity, pro- 
duced half in joke in reaction against the current style, or in 
relief from it. If we run over the names of the most famous 
of the Gothic romancers — Clara Reeve, Mrs. Radcliffe, 
Monk Lewis, Charles Maturin, Sarah Wilkinson — we shall 
smile at the absurdity of the visions which they conjure up. 
We shall, perhaps, congratulate ourselves upon our improve- 
ment. Yet since our ancestors bought two thousand copies of 
Mrs. Bennett's Beggar Girl and her Benefactors, on the day of 

1 Times Literary Supplement, May 5, 1 92 1 . 
2 The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance, by Edith Birkhead. 



publication, at a cost of thirty-six shillings for the seven 
volumes, there must have been something in the trash that 
was appetizing, or something in the appetites that was 
coarse. It is only polite to give our ancestors the benefit of 
the doubt. Let us try to put ourselves in their places. The 
books that formed part of the ordinary library in the year 
1 764 were, presumably, Johnson's Vanity of Human Wishes, 
Gray's Poems, Richardson's Clarissa, Addison's Cato, Pope's 
Essay on Man. No one could wish for a more distinguished 
company. At the same time, as literary critics are too little 
aware, a love of literature is often roused and for the first 
years nourished not by the good books, but by the bad. It 
will be an ill day when all the reading is done in libraries 
and none of it in tubes. In the eighteenth century there must 
have been a very large public which found no delight in the 
peculiar literary merits of the age; and if we reflect how long 
the days were and how empty of distraction, we need not be 
surprised to find a school of writers grown up in flat defiance 
of the prevailing masters. Horace Walpole, Clara Reeve, 
and Mrs. Radcliffe all turned their backs upon their time 
and plunged into the delightful obscurity of the Middle 
Ages, which were so much richer than the eighteenth century 
in castles, barons, moats, and murders. 

What Horace Walpole began half in fun was continued 
seriously and with considerable power by Mrs. Radcliffe. 
That she had a conscience in the matter is evident from the 
pains she is at to explain her mysteries when they have done 
their work. The human body 'decayed and disfigured by 
worms, which were visible in the features and hands', turns 
out to be a waxen image credibly placed there in fulfilment 
of a vow. But there is little wonder that a novelist perpetually 
on the stretch first to invent mysteries and then to explain 
them had no leisure for the refinements of the art. ' Mrs. 
Radcliffe's heroines', says Miss Birkhead, 'resemble nothing 
more than a composite photograph in which all distinctive 
traits are merged into an expressionless type.' The same 
fault can be found with most books of sensation and adven- 
ture, and is, after all, inherent in the subject; for it is un- 



likely that a lady confronted by a male body stark naked, 
wreathed in worms, where she had looked, maybe, for a 
pleasant landscape in oils, should do more than give a loud 
cry and drop senseless. And women who give loud cries and 
drop senseless do it in much the same way. That is one of the 
reasons why it is extremely difficult to write a tale of terror 
which continues to shock and does not first become insipid 
and later ridiculous. Even Miss Wilkinson, who wrote that 
'Adeline Barnett was fair as a lily, tall as the pine, her fine 
dark eyes sparkling as diamonds, and she moved with the 
majestic air of a goddess', had to ridicule her own favourite 
style before she had done. Scott, Jane Austen, and Peacock 
stooped from their heights to laugh at the absurdity of the 
convention and drove it, at any rate, to take refuge under- 
ground. For it flourished subterraneously all through the 
nineteenth century, and for sixpence you can buy to-day at 
the bookstall the recognizable descendant of the Mysteries of 
Udolpho. Nor is Adeline Barnett by any means defunct. She 
is probably an earl's daughter at the present moment; 
vicious, painted; in society. But if you call her Miss Wilkin- 
son's Adeline she will have to answer none the less. 

It would be a fine exercise in discrimination to decide the 
precise point at which romance becomes Gothic and imagi- 
nation moonshine. Coleridge's lines in Kubla Khan about the 
woman wailing for her demon lover are a perfect example 
of the successful use of emotion. The difficulty, as Miss Birk- 
head shows, is to know where to stop. Humour is com- 
paratively easy to control; psychology is too toilsome to be 
frequently overdone; but a gift for romance easily escapes 
control and cruelly plunges its possessor into disrepute. 
Maturin and Monk Lewis heaped up horrors until Mrs. 
Radcliffe herself appeared calm and composed. And they 
have paid the penalty. The skull-headed lady, the vampire 
gentleman, the whole troop of monks and monsters who 
once froze and terrified now gibber in some dark cupboard 
of the servants' hall. In our day we flatter ourselves the 
effect is produced by subtler means. It is at the ghosts 
within us that we shudder, and not at the decaying bodies of 



barons or the subterranean activities of ghouls. Yet the desire 
to widen our boundaries, to feel excitement without danger, 
and to escape as far as possible from the facts of life drive us 
perpetually to trifle with the risky ingredients of the mys- 
terious and the unknown. Science, as Miss Birkhead sug- 
gests, will modify the Gothic romance of the future with the 
aeroplane and the telephone. Already the bolder of our 
novelists have made use of psycho-analysis to startle and 
dismay. And already such perils attend the use of the 
abnormal in fiction — the younger generation has been 
heard to complain that the horror of the Turn of the Screw is 
altogether too tame and conventional to lift a hair of their 
heads. But can we possibly say that Henry James was a 


The Supernatural in Fiction 1 

WHEN Miss Scarborough 2 describes the results of her 
inquiries into the supernatural in fiction as 'sugges- 
tive rather than exhaustive ' we have only to add that in any 
discussion of the supernatural suggestion is perhaps more 
useful than an attempt at science. To mass together all sorts 
of cases of the supernatural in literature without much more 
system or theory than the indication of dates supplies leaves 
the reader free where freedom has a special value. Perhaps 
some psychological law lies hidden beneath the hundreds of 
stories about ghosts and abnormal states of mind (for stories 
about abnormal states of mind are included with those that 
are strictly supernatural) which are referred to in her pages; 
but in our twilight state it is better to guess than to assert, 
to feel than to classify our feelings. So much evidence of the 
delight which human nature takes in stories of the super- 
natural will inevitably lead one to ask what this interest 
implies both in the writer and in the reader. 

In the first place, how are we to account for the strange 
human craving for the pleasure of feeling afraid which is so 
much involved in our love of ghost stories? It is pleasant 
to be afraid when we are conscious that we are in no kind 
of danger, and it is even more pleasant to be assured of 
the mind's capacity to penetrate those barriers which for 
twenty-three hours out of the twenty-four remain impas- 
sable. Crude fear, with its anticipation of physical pain or 
of terrifying uproar, is an undignified and demoralizing 
sensation, while the mastery of fear only produces a respect- 
able mask of courage, which is of no great interest to our- 
selves, although it may impose upon others. But the fear 
which we get from reading ghost stories of the supernatural 
is a refined and spiritualized essence of fear. It is a fear 

1 Times Literary Supplement, January 31, 191 8. 
1 The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction, by Dorothy Scarborough. 



which we can examine and play with. Fur from despising 
ourselves for being frightened by a ghost story we are proud 
of this proof of sensibility, and perhaps unconsciously wel- 
come the chance for the licit gratification of certain instincts 
which we are wont to treat as outlaws. It is worth noticing 
that the craving for the supernatural in literature coincided 
in the eighteenth century with a period of rationalism in 
thought, as if the, effect of damming the human instincts at 
one point causes them to overflow at another. Such instincts 
were certainly at full flood when the writings of Mrs. Rad- 
cliffe were their chosen channel. Her ghosts and ruins have 
long suffered the fate which so swiftly waits upon any exag- 
geration of the supernatural and substitutes our ridicule for 
our awe. But although we are quick to throw away imagina- 
tive symbols which have served our turn, the desire persists. 
Mrs. Radcliffe may vanish, but the craving for the super- 
natural survives. Some element of the supernatural is so 
constant in poetry that one has come to look upon it as part 
of the normal fabric of the art; but in poetry, being ethereal- 
ized, it scarcely provokes any emotion so gross as fear. 
Nobody was ever afraid to walk down a dark passage after 
reading The Ancient Mariner, but rather inclined to venture 
out to meet whatever ghosts might deign to visit him. Prob- 
ably some degree of reality is necessary in order to produce 
fear; and reality is best conveyed by prose. Certainly one of 
the finest ghost stories, Wandering Willie's Tale in Red- 
gauntlet, gains immensely from the homely truth of the 
setting, to which the use of the Scotch dialect contributes. 
The hero is a real man, the country is as solid as can be; and 
suddenly in the midst of the green and gray landscape opens 
up the crimson transparency of Redgauntlet Castle with the 
dead sinners at their feasting. 

The superb genius of Scott here achieves a triumph which 
should keep this story immortal however the fashion in the 
supernatural may change. Steenie Steenson is himself so 
real and his belief in the phantoms is so vivid that we draw 
our fear through our perception of his fear, the story itself 
being of a kind that has ceased to frighten us. In fact, the 



vision of the dead carousing would now be treated in a 
humorous, romantic or perhaps patriotic spirit, but scarcely 
with any hope of making our flesh creep. To do that the 
author must change his direction; he must seek to terrify 
us not by the ghosts of the dead, but by those ghosts which 
are living within ourselves. The great increase of the psy- 
chical ghost story in late years, to which Miss Scarborough 
bears witness, testifies to the fact that our sense of our own 
ghostliness has much quickened. A rational age is succeeded 
by one which seeks the supernatural in the soul of man, and 
the development of psychical research offers a basis of dis- 
puted fact for this desire to feed upon. Henry James, indeed, 
was of opinion before writing The Turn of the Screw that ' the 
good, the really effective and heart-shaking ghost stories 
(roughly so to term them) appeared all to have been told. 
. . . The new type, indeed, the mere modern "psychical 
case", washed clean of all queerness as by exposure to a 
flowing laboratory tap, . . . the new type clearly promised 
little.' Since The Turn of the Screw, however, and no doubt 
largely owing to that masterpiece, the new type has justified 
its existence by rousing, if not 'the dear old sacred terror', 
still a very effective modern representative. If you wish to 
guess what our ancestors felt when they read The Mysteries of 
Udolpho you cannot do better than read The Turn of the Screw. 
Experiment proves that the new fear resembles the old in 
producing physical sensations as of erect hair, dilated pupils, 
rigid muscles, and an intensified perception of sound and 
movement. But what is it that we are afraid of? We are not 
afraid of ruins, or moonlight, or ghosts. Indeed, we should 
be relieved to find that Quint and Miss Jessel are ghosts, but 
they have neither the substance nor the independent exist- 
ence of ghosts. The odious creatures are much closer to us 
than ghosts have ever been. The governess is not so much 
frightened of them as of the sudden extension of her own 
field of perception, which in this case widens to reveal to her 
the presence all about her of an unmentionable evil. The 
appearance of the figures is an illustration, not in itself 
specially alarming, of a state of mind which is profoundly 



mysterious and terrifying. It is a state of mind; even the 
external objects are made to testify to their subjection. The 
oncoming of the state is preceded not by the storms and 
howlings of the old romances, but by an absolute hush and 
lapse of nature which we feel to represent the ominous trance 
of her own mind. 'The rooks stopped cawing in the golden 
sky, and the friendly evening hour lost for the unspeakable 
minute all its voice.' The horror of the story comes from the 
force with which it makes us realize the power that our 
minds possess for such excursions into the darkness; when 
certain lights sink or certain barriers are lowered, the ghosts 
of the mind, untracked desires, indistinct intimations, are 
seen to be a large company. 

In the hands of such masters as Scott and Henry James 
the supernatural is so wrought in with the natural that fear is 
kept from a dangerous exaggeration into simple disgust or 
disbelief verging upon ridicule. Mr. Kipling's stories The 
Mark of the Beast and The Return of Imray are powerful 
enough to repel one by their horror, but they are too violent 
to appeal to our sense of wonder. For it would be a mistake 
to suppose that supernatural fiction always seeks to produce 
fear, or that the best ghost stories are those which most 
accurately and medically describe abnormal states of mind. 
On the contrary, a vast amount of fiction both in prose and 
in verse now assures us that the world to which we shut our 
eyes is far more friendly and inviting, more beautiful by day 
and more holy by night, than the world which we persist 
in thinking the real world. The country is peopled with 
nymphs and dryads, and Pan, far from being dead, is at his 
pranks in all the villages of England. Much of this myth- 
ology is used not for its own sake, but for purposes of satire 
and allegory; but there exists a group of writers who have 
the sense of the unseen without such alloy. Such a sense may 
bring visions of fairies or phantoms, or it may lead to a 
quickened perception of the relations existing between men 
and plants, or houses and their inhabitants, or any one of 
those innumerable alliances which somehow or other we 
spin between ourselves and other objects in our passage. 


Henry James's Ghost Stories' 

IT is plain that Henry James was a good deal attracted by 
the ghost story, or, to speak more accurately, by the story 
of the supernatural. He wrote at least eight of them, and if 
we wish to see what led him to do so, and what opinion he 
had of his success, nothing is simpler than to read his own 
account in the preface to the volume containing Altar of the 
Dead. Yet perhaps we shall keep our own view more distinct 
if we neglect the preface. As the years go by certain qualities 
appear, and others disappear. We shall only muddle our 
own estimate if we try, dutifully, to make it square with the 
verdict which the author at the time passed on his own 
work. For example, what did Henry James say of The Great 
Good Place? 

There remains The Great Good Place (1900) — to the 
spirit of which, however, it strikes me that any gloss or 
comment would be a tactless challenge. It embodies a 
calculated effect, and to plunge into it, I find, even for a 
beguiled glance — a course I indeed recommend — is to 
have left all else outside. 

And to us, in 1921, The Great Good Place is a failure. It is 
another example of the fact that when a writer is completely 
and even ecstatically conscious of success he has, as likely as 
not, written his worst. We ought, we feel, to be inside, and 
we remain coldly outside. Something has failed to work, and 
we are inclined to accuse the supernatural. The challenge 
may be tactless, but challenge it we must. 

That The Great Good Place begins admirably, no one will 
deny. Without the waste of a word we find ourselves at once 
in the heart of a situation. The harassed celebrity, George 
Dane, is surrounded by unopened letters and unread books; 
telegrams arrive; invitations accumulate; and the things of 
1 Times Literary Supplement, December 22, 1921. 


value lie hopelessly buried beneath the litter. Meanwhile, 
Brown the manservant announces that a strange young 
man has arrived to breakfast. Dane touches the young man's 
hand, and, at this culminating point of annoyance, lapses 
into a trance or wakes up in another world. He finds himself 
in a celestial rest-cure establishment. Far bells toll; flowers 
are fragrant; and after a time the inner life revives. But 
directly the change is accomplished we are aware that some- 
thing is wrong with the story. The movement flags; the 
emotion is monotonous. The enchanter waves his wand and 
the cows go on grazing. All the characteristic phrases are 
there in waiting — the silver bowls, the melted hours — but 
there is no work for them to do. The story dwindles to a 
sweet soliloquy. Dane and the Brothers become angelic alle- 
gorical figures pacing a world that is like ours but smoother 
and emptier. As if he felt the need of something hard and 
objective the author invokes the name of the city of Brad- 
ford; but it is vain. The Great Good Place is an example of the 
sentimental use of the supernatural and for that reason no 
doubt Henry James would be likely to feel that he had been 
more than usually intimate and expressive. 

The other stories will presently prove that the super- 
natural offers great prizes as well as great risks; but let us 
for a moment dwell upon the risks. The first is undoubtedly 
that it removes the shocks and buffetings of experience. In 
the breakfast-room with Brown and the telegram Henry 
James was forced to keep moving by the pressure of reality; 
the door must open; the hour must strike. Directly he sank 
through the solid ground he gained possession of a world 
which he could fashion to his liking. In the dream world the 
door need not open; the clock need not strike; beauty is to 
be had for the asking. But beauty is the most perverse of 
spirits; it seems as if she must pass through ugliness or lie 
down with disorder before she can rise in her own person. 
The ready-made beauty of the dream world produces only 
an anaemic and conventionalized version of the world we 
know. And Henry James was much too fond of the world 
we know to create one that we do not know. The visionary 



imagination was by no means his. His genius was dramatic, 
not lyric. Even his characters wilt in the thin atmosphere he 
provides for them, and we are presented with a Brother 
when we would much rather grasp the substantial person 
of Brown. 

We have been piling the risks, rather unfairly, upon one 
story in particular. The truth is perhaps that we have 
become fundamentally sceptical. Mrs. Radcliffe amused our 
ancestors because they were our ancestors; because they 
lived with very few books, an occasional post, a newspaper 
superannuated before it reached them, in the depths of the 
country or in a town which resembled the more modest of 
our villages, with long hours to spend sitting over the fire 
drinking wine by the light of half a dozen candles. Nowadays 
we breakfast upon a richer feast of horror than served them 
for a twelvemonth. We are tired of violence; we suspect 
mystery. Surely, we might say to a writer set upon the 
supernatural, there are facts enough in the world to go 
round; surely it is safer to stay in the breakfast-room with 
Brown. Moreover, we are impervious to fear. Your ghosts 
will only make us laugh, and if you try to express some 
tender and intimate vision of a world stripped of its hide we 
shall be forced (and there is nothing more uncomfortable) to 
look the other way. But writers, if they are worth their salt, 
never take advice. They always run risks. To admit that the 
supernatural was used for the last time by Mrs. Radcliffe 
and that modern nerves are immune from the wonder and 
terror which ghosts have always inspired would be to throw 
up the sponge too easily. If the old methods are obsolete, it 
is the business of a writer to discover new ones. The public 
can feel again what it has once felt — there can be no doubt 
about that; only from time to time the point of attack must 
be changed. 

How consciously Henry James set himself to look for the 
weak place in our armour of insensibility it is not necessary 
to decide. Let us turn to another story, The Friends of the 
Friends, and judge whether he succeeded. This is the story of 
a man and woman who have been trying for years to meet 



but only accomplish their meeting on the night of the 
woman's death. After her death the meetings are continued, 
and when this is divined by the woman he is engaged to 
marry she refuses to go on with the marriage. The relation- 
ship is altered. Another person, she says, has come between 
them. 'You see her — you see her; you see her every night!' 
It is what we have come to call a typically Henry James 
situation. It is the same theme that was treated with enor- 
mous elaboration in The Wings of the Dove. Only there, when 
Milly has come between Kate and Densher and altered their 
relationship for ever, she has ceased to exist; here the anony- 
mous lady goes on with her work after death. And yet — 
does it make very much difference? Henry James has only 
to take the smallest of steps and he is over the border. His 
characters with their extreme fineness of perception are 
already half-way out of the body. There is nothing violent 
in their release. They seem rather to have achieved at last 
what they have long been attempting — communication 
without obstacle. But Henry James, after all, kept his ghosts 
for his ghost stories. Obstacles are essential to The Wings of 
the Dove. When he removed them by supernatural means as 
he did in The Friends of the Friends he did so in order to pro- 
duce a particular effect. The story is very short; there is no 
time to elaborate the relationship; but the point can be 
pressed home by a shock. The supernatural is brought in to 
provide that shock. It is the queerest of shocks — tranquil, 
beautiful, like the closing of chords in harmony; and yet, 
somehow obscene. The living and the dead by virtue of 
their superior sensibility have reached across the gulf; that 
is beautiful. The live man and the dead woman have met 
alone at night. They have their relationship. The spiritual 
and the carnal meeting together produce a strange emotion 
— not exactly fear, nor yet excitement. It is a feeling that 
we do not immediately recognize. There is a weak spot in 
our armour somewhere. Perhaps Henry James will pene- 
trate by methods such as these. 

Next, however, we turn to Owen Wingrave, and the entic- 
ing game of pinning your author to the board by detecting 



once more traces of his fineness, his subtlety, whatever his 
prevailing characteristics may be, is rudely interrupted. 
Pinioned, tied down, to all appearance lifeless, up he jumps 
and walks away. Somehow one has forgotten to account for 
the genius, for the driving power which is so incalculable 
and so essential. With Henry James in particular we tend, 
in wonder at his prodigious dexterity, to forget that he had 
a crude and simple passion for telling stories. The preface to 
Owen Wingrave throws light upon that fact, and incidentally 
suggests why it is that Owen Wingrave as a ghost story misses 
its mark. One summer's afternoon, many years ago, he tells 
us, he sat on a penny chair under a great tree in Kensington 
Gardens. A slim young man sat down upon another chair 
near by and began to read a book. 

Did the young man then, on the spot, just become Owen 
Wingrave, establishing by the mere magic of type the 
situation, creating at a stroke all the implications and 
filling out all the pictures? . . . my poor point is only that 
at the beginning of my session in the penny chair the 
seedless fable hadn't a claim to make or an excuse to give, 
and that, the very next thing, the penny-worth still partly 
unconsumed, it was fairly bristling with pretexts. ' Drama- 
tize it, dramatize it!' would seem to have rung with 
sudden intensity in my ears. 

So the theory of a conscious artist taking out his little 
grain of matter and working it into the finished fabric is 
another of our critical fables. The truth appears to be that 
he sat on a chair, saw a young man, and fell asleep. At any 
rate, once the group, the man, or perhaps only the sky and 
the trees become significant, the rest is there inevitably. 
Given Owen Wingrave, then Spencer Coyle, Mrs. Goyle, 
Kate Julian, the old house, the season, the atmosphere must 
be in existence. Owen Wingrave implies all that. The artist 
has simply to see that the relations between these places and 
people are the right ones. When we say that Henry James 
had a passion for story-telling we mean that when his 
significant moment came to him the accessories were ready 
to flock in. 



In this instance they flocked in almost too readily. There 
they are on the spot with all the stir and importance that 
belong to living people. Miss Wingrave seated in her Baker 
Street lodging with ' a fat catalogue of the Army and Navy 
Stores, which reposed on a vast desolate table-cover of false 
blue'; Mrs. Coyle, 'a fair fresh slow woman', who admitted 
and indeed gloried in the fact that she was in love with her 
husband's pupils, 'Which shows that the subject between 
them was treated in a liberal spirit'; Spencer Coyle himself, 
and the boy Lechmere — all bear, of course, upon the question 
of Owen's temperament and situation, and yet they bear on 
so many other things besides. We seem to be settling in for a 
long absorbing narrative; and then, rudely, incongruously, 
a shriek rings out; poor Owen is found stretched on the 
threshold of the haunted room; the supernatural has cut the 
book in two. It is violent; it is sensational; but if Henry 
James himself were to ask us: 'Now, have I frightened you?' 
we should be forced to reply: 'Not a bit'. The catastrophe 
has not the right relations to what has gone before. The 
vision in Kensington Gardens did not, perhaps, embrace 
the whole. Out of sheer bounty the author has given us a 
scene rich in possibilities — a young man whose problem (he 
detests war and is condemned to be a soldier) has a deep 
psychological interest; a girl whose subtlety and oddity are 
purposely defined as if in readiness for future use. Yet what 
use is made of them? Kate Julian has merely to dare a young 
man to sleep in a haunted room; a plump Miss from a 
parsonage would have done as well. What use is made of the 
supernatural? Poor Owen Wingrave is knocked on the head 
by the ghost of an ancestor; a stable bucket in a dark passage 
would have done it better. 

The stories in which Henry James uses the supernatural 
effectively are, then, those where some quality in a char- 
acter or in a situation can only be given its fullest meaning 
by being cut free from facts. Its progress in the unseen world 
must be closely related to what goes on in this. We must be 
made to feel that the apparition fits the crisis of passion or 
of conscience which sent it forth so exactly that the ghost 



story, besides its virtues as a ghost story, has the additional 
charm of being also symbolical. Thus the ghost of Sir 
Edmund Orme appears to the lady who jilted him long ago 
whenever her daughter shows signs of becoming engaged. 
The apparition is the result of her guilty conscience, but it 
is more than that. It is the guardian of the rights of lovers. It 
fits what has gone before; it completes. The use of the super- 
natural draws out a harmony which would otherwise be 
inaudible. We hear the first note close at hand, and then, a 
moment after, the second chimes far away. 

Henry James's ghosts have nothing in common with the 
violent old ghosts — the blood-stained sea captains, the white 
horses, the headless ladies of dark lanes and windy commons. 
They have their origin within us. They are present when- 
ever the significant overflows our powers of expressing it; 
whenever the ordinary appears ringed by the strange. The 
baffling things that are left over, the frightening ones that 
persist — these are the emotions that he takes, embodies, 
makes consoling and companionable. But how can we be 
afraid? As the gentleman says when he has seen the ghost of 
Sir Edmund Orme for the first time: ' I was ready to answer 
for it to all and sundry that ghosts are much less alarming 
and more amusing than was commonly supposed'. The 
beautiful urbane spirits are only not of this world because 
they are too fine for it. They have taken with them across 
the border their clothes, their manners, their breeding, their 
band-boxes, and valets and ladies' maids. They remain 
always a little worldly. We may feel clumsy in their pres- 
ence, but we cannot feel afraid. What does it matter, then, 
if we do pick up the Turn of the Screw an hour or so before 
bedtime? After an exquisite entertainment we shall, if the 
other stories are to be trusted, end with this fine music in 
our ears, and sleep the sounder. 

Perhaps it is the silence that first impresses us. Everything 
at Bly is so profoundly quiet. The twitter of birds at dawn, 
the far-away cries of children, faint footsteps in the distance 
stir it but leave it unbroken. It accumulates; it weighs us 
down; it makes us strangely apprehensive of noise. At last 



the house and garden die out beneath it. ' I can hear again, 
as I write, the intense hush in which the sounds of evening 
dropped. The rooks stopped cawing in the golden sky, and 
the unfriendly hour lost for the unspeakable minute all its 
voice.' It is unspeakable. We know that the man who stands 
on the tower staring down at the governess beneath is evil. 
Some unutterable obscenity has come to the surface. It tries 
to get in; it tries to get at something. The exquisite little 
beings who lie innocently asleep must at all costs be pro- 
tected. But the horror grows. Is it possible that the little girl, 
as she turns back from the window, has seen the woman 
outside? Has she been with Miss Jessel? Has Quint visited 
the boy? It is Quint who hangs about us in the dark; who is 
there in that corner and again there in that. It is Quint who 
must be reasoned away, and for all our reasoning returns. 
Can it be that we are afraid? But it is not a man with red 
hair and a white face whom we fear. We are afraid of some- 
thing, perhaps, in ourselves. In short, we turn on the light. 
If by its beams we examine the story in safety, note how 
masterly the telling is, how each sentence is stretched, each 
image filled, how the inner world gains from the robustness 
of the outer, how beauty and obscenity twined together 
worm their way to the depths — still we must own that 
something remains unaccounted for. We must admit that 
Henry James has conquered. That courtly, worldly, senti- 
mental old gentleman can still make us afraid of the dark. 


A Terribly Sensitive Mind 1 

THE most distinguished writers of short stories in Eng- 
land are agreed, says Mr. Murry, that as a writer of 
short stories Katherine Mansfield was hors concours. No one 
has succeeded her, and no critic has been able to define her 
quality. But the reader of her journal is well content to let 
such questions be. It is not the quality of her writing or the 
degree of her fame that interest us in her diary, but the 
spectacle of a mind — a terribly sensitive mind — receiving 
one after another the haphazard impressions of eight years 
of life. Her diary was a mystical companion. 'Come my 
unseen, my unknown, let us talk together', she says on 
beginning a new volume. In it she noted facts — the weather, 
an engagement; she sketched scenes; she analyzed her char- 
acter; she described a pigeon or a dream or a conversation, 
nothing could be more fragmentary; nothing more private. 
We feel that we are watching a mind which is alone with 
itself; a mind which has so little thought of an audience that 
it will make use of a shorthand of its own now and then, or, 
as the mind in its loneliness tends to do, divide into two and 
talk to itself. Katherine Mansfield about Katherine Mans- 

But then as the scraps accumulate we find ourselves giving 
them, or more probably receiving from Katherine Mans- 
field herself, a direction. From what point of view is she 
looking at life as she sits there, terribly sensitive, registering 
one after another such diverse impressions? She is a writer; 
a born writer. Everything she feels and hears and sees is not 
fragmentary and separate; it belongs together as writing. 
Sometimes the note is directly made for a story. 'Let me 
remember when I write about that fiddle how it runs up 
lightly and swings down sorrowful; how it searches', she notes. 

1 New York Herald Tribune, September 18, 1927. 



Or, 'Lumbago. This is a very queer thing. So sudden, so 
painful, I must remember it when I write about an old man. 
The start to get up, the pause, the look of fury, and how, 
lying at night, one seems to get locked.' . . . 

Again, the moment itself suddenly puts on significance, 
and she traces the outline as if to preserve it. 'It's raining, 
but the air is soft, smoky, warm. Big drops patter on the 
languid leaves, the tobacco flowers lean over. Now there is a 
rustle in the ivy. Wingly has appeared from the garden next 
door; he bounds from the wall. And delicately, lifting his 
paws, pointing his ears, very afraid the big wave will over- 
take him, he wades over the lake of green grass.' The Sister 
of Nazareth 'showing her pale gums and big discoloured 
teeth' asks for money. The thin dog. So thin that his body is 
like 'a cage on four wooden pegs', runs down the street. In 
some sense, she feels, the thin dog is the street. In all this we 
seem to be in the midst of unfinished stories; here is a begin- 
ning; here an end. They only need a loop of words thrown 
round them to be complete. 

But then the diary is so private and so instinctive that it 
allows another self to break off from the self that writes and 
to stand a little apart watching it write. The writing self was 
a queer self; sometimes nothing would induce it to write. 
'There is so much to do and I do so little. Life would be 
almost perfect here if only when I was pretending to work I 
always was working. Look at the stories that wait and wait 
iust at the threshold. . . . Next day. Yet take this morning, for 
instance. I don't want to write anything. It's gray; it's heavy 
and dull. And short stories seem unreal and not worth doing. 
I don't want to write; I want to live. What does she mean 
by that? It's not easy to say. But there you are!' 

What does she mean by that? No one felt more seriously 
the importance of writing than she did. In all the pages of 
her journal, instinctive, rapid as they are, her attitude 
toward her work is admirable, sane, caustic, and austere. 
There is no literary gossip; no vanity; no jealousy. Although 
during her last years she must have been aware of her success 
she makes no allusion to it. Her own comments upon her work 



are always penetrating and disparaging. Her stories wanted 
richness and depth; she was only 'skimming the top — no 
more'. But writing, the mere expression of things adequately 
and sensitively, is not enough. It is founded upon something 
unexpressed; and this something must be solid and entire. 
Under the desperate pressure of increasing illness she began 
a curious and difficult search, of which we catch glimpses 
only and those hard to interpret, after the crystal clearness 
which is needed if one is to write truthfully. 'Nothing of any 
worth can come of a disunited being', she wrote. One must 
have health in one's self. After five years of struggle she gave 
up the search after physical health not in despair, but be- 
cause she thought the malady was of the soul and that the 
cure lay not in any physical treatment, but in some such 
'spiritual brotherhood' as that at Fontainebleau, in which 
the last months of her life were spent. But before she went 
she wrote the summing up of her position with which the 
journal ends. 

She wanted health, she wrote; but what did she mean by 
health? 'By health', she wrote, 'I mean the power to lead a 
full, adult, living, breathing life in close contact with what I 
love — the earth and the wonders thereof — the sea — the sun. 
. . . Then I want to work. At what? I want so to live that I 
work with my hands and my feeling and my brain. I want 
a garden, a small house, grass, animals, books, pictures, 
music. And out of this, the expression of this, I want to be 
writing. (Though I may write about cabmen. That's no 
matter.) ' The diary ends with the words 'All is well'. And 
since she died three months later it is tempting to think that 
the words stood for some conclusion which illness and the 
intensity of her own nature drove her to find at an age when 
most of us are loitering easily among those appearances and 
impressions, those amusements and sensations, which none 
had loved better than she. 


Women and Fiction 1 

THE title of this article can be read in two ways: it may 
allude to women and the fiction that they write, or to 
women and the fiction that is written about them. The 
ambiguity is intentional, for in dealing with women as 
writers, as much elasticity as possible is desirable; it is neces- 
sary to leave oneself room to deal with other things besides 
their work, so much has that work been influenced by con- 
ditions that have nothing whatever to do with art. 

The most superficial inquiry into women's writing in- 
stantly raises a host of questions. Why, we ask at once, was 
there no continuous writing done by women before the 
eighteenth century? Why did they then write almost as 
habitually as men, and in the course of that writing produce, 
one after another, some of the classics of English fiction? 
And why did their art then, and why to some extent does 
their art still, take the form of fiction? 

A little thought will show us that we are asking questions 
to which we shall get, as answer, only further fiction. The 
answer lies at present locked in old diaries, stuffed away in 
old drawers, half-obliterated in the memories of the aged. 
It is to be found in the lives of the obscure— in those almost 
unlit corridors of history where the figures of generations of 
women are so dimly, so fitfully perceived. For very little is 
known about women. The history of England is the history 
of the male line, not of the female. Of our fathers we know 
always some fact, some distinction. They were soldiers or 
they were sailors; they filled that office or they made that 
law. But of our mothers, our grandmothers, our great- 
grandmothers, what remains? Nothing but a tradition. One 
was beautiful; one was red-haired; one was kissed by a 
Queen. We know nothing of them except their names and 

1 The Forum, March 1929. 



the dates of their marriages and the number of children they 

Thus, if we wish to know why at any particular time 
women did this or that, why they wrote nothing, why on the 
other hand they wrote masterpieces, it is extremely difficult 
to tell. Anyone who should seek among those old papers, 
who should turn history wrong side out and so construct a 
faithful picture of the daily life of the ordinary woman in 
Shakespeare's time, in Milton's time, in Johnson's time, 
would not only write a book of astonishing interest, but 
would furnish the critic with a weapon which he now lacks. 
The extraordinary woman depends on the ordinary woman. 
It is only when we know what were the conditions of the 
average woman's life — the number of her children, whether 
she had money of her own, if she had a room to herself, 
whether she had help in bringing up her family, if she had 
servants, whether part of the housework was her task — it is 
only when we can measure the way of life and the experience 
of life made possible to the ordinary woman that we can 
account for the success or failure of the extraordinary woman 
as a writer. 

Strange spaces of silence seem to separate one period of 
activity from another. There was Sappho and a little group 
of women all writing poetry on a Greek island six hundred 
years before the birth of Christ. They fall silent. Then about 
the year i ooo we find a certain court lady, the Lady Mura- 
saki, writing a very long and beautiful novel in Japan. But 
in England in the sixteenth century, when the dramatists 
and poets were most active, the women were dumb. Eliza- 
bethan literature is exclusively masculine. Then, at the end 
of the eighteenth century and in the beginning of the nine- 
teenth, we find women again writing — this time in England 
— with extraordinary frequency and success. 

Law and custom were of course largely responsible for 
these strange intermissions of silence and speech. When a 
woman was liable, as she was in the fifteenth century, to be 
beaten and flung about the room if she did not marry the 
man of her parents' choice, the spiritual atmosphere was not 



favourable to the production of works of art. When she was 
married without her own consent to a man who thereupon 
became her lord and master, 'so far at least as law and 
custom could make him', as she was in the time of the 
Stuarts, it is likely she had little time for writing, and less 
encouragement. The immense effect of environment and 
suggestion upon the mind, we in our psychoanalytical age 
are beginning to realize. Again, with memoirs and letters to 
help us, we are beginning to understand how abnormal is 
the effort needed to produce a work of art, and what shelter 
and what support the mind of the artist requires. Of those 
facts the lives and letters of men like Keats and Carlyle and 
Flaubert assure us. 

Thus it is clear that the extraordinary outburst of fiction 
in the beginning of the nineteenth century in England was 
heralded by innumerable slight changes in law and customs 
and manners. And women of the nineteenth century had 
some leisure; they had some education. It was no longer the 
exception for women of the middle and upper classes to 
choose their own husbands. And it is significant that of the 
four great women novelists — Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, 
Charlotte Bronte, and George Eliot — not one had a child, 
and two were unmarried. 

Yet, though it is clear that the ban upon writing had been 
removed, there was still, it would seem, considerable pres- 
sure upon women to write novels. No four women can have 
been more unlike in genius and character than these four. 
Jane Austen can have had nothing in common with George 
Eliot; George Eliot was the direct opposite of Emily Bronte. 
Yet all were trained for the same profession; all, when they 
wrote, wrote novels. 

Fiction was, as fiction still is, the easiest thing for a 
woman to write. Nor is it difficult to find the reason. A novel 
is the least concentrated form of art. A novel can be taken up 
or put down more easily than a play or a poem. George 
Eliot left her work to nurse her father. Charlotte Bronte put 
down her pen to pick the eyes out of the potatoes. And living 
as she did in the common sitting-room, surrounded by 



people, a woman was trained to use her mind in observation 
and upon the analysis of character. She was trained to be a 
novelist and not to be a poet. 

Even in the nineteenth century, a woman lived almost 
solely in her home and her emotions. And those nineteenth- 
century novels, remarkable as they were, were profoundly 
influenced by the fact that the women who wrote them were 
excluded by their sex from certain kinds of experience. That 
experience has a great influence upon fiction is indisputable. 
The best part of Conrad's novels, for instance, would be 
destroyed if it had been impossible for him to be a sailor. 
Take away all that Tolstoi knew of war as a soldier, of life 
and society as a rich young man whose education admitted 
him to all sorts of experience, and War and Peace would be 
incredibly impoverished. 

Yet Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Villette, and 
Middlemarch were written by women from whom was for- 
cibly withheld all experience save that which could be met 
with in a middle-class drawing-room. No first-hand experi- 
ence of war or seafaring or politics or business was possible 
for them. Even their emotional life was strictly regulated by 
law and custom. When George Eliot ventured to live with 
Mr. Lewes without being his wife, public opinion was scan- 
dalized. Under its pressure she withdrew into a suburban 
seclusion which, inevitably, had the worst possible effects 
upon her work. She wrote that unless people asked of their 
own accord to come and see her, she never invited them. At 
the same time, on the other side of Europe, Tolstoi was 
living a free life as a soldier, with men and women of all 
classes, for which nobody censured him and from which his 
novels drew much of their astonishing breadth and vigour. 

But the novels of women were not affected only by the 
necessarily narrow range of the writer's experience. They 
showed, at least in the nineteenth century, another char- 
acteristic which may be traced to the writer's sex. In Middle- 
march and in Jane Eyre we are conscious not merely of the 
writer's character, as we are conscious of the character of 
Charles Dickens, but we are conscious of a woman's presence 



— of someone resenting the treatment of her sex and plead- 
ing for its rights. This brings into women's writing an ele- 
ment which is entirely absent from a man's, unless, indeed, 
he happens to be a working-man, a negro, or one who for 
some other reason is conscious of disability. It introduces a 
distortion and is frequently the cause of weakness. The 
desire to plead some personal cause or to make a character 
the mouthpiece of some personal discontent or grievance 
always has a distressing effect, as if the spot at which the 
reader's attention is directed were suddenly twofold instead 
of single. 

The genius of Jane Austen and Emily Bronte is never more 
convincing than in their power to ignore such claims and 
solicitations and to hold on their way unperturbed by scorn 
or censure. But it needed a very serene or a very powerful 
mind to resist the temptation to anger. The ridicule, the 
censure, the assurance of inferiority in one form or another 
which were lavished upon women who practised an art, 
provoked such reactions naturally enough. One sees the 
effect in Charlotte Bronte's indignation, in George Eliot's 
resignation. Again and again one finds it in the work of the 
lesser women writers — in their choice of a subject, in their 
unnatural self-assertiveness, in their unnatural docility. 
Moreover, insincerity leaks in almost unconsciously. They 
adopt a view in deference to authority. The vision becomes 
too masculine or it becomes too feminine; it loses its perfect 
integrity and, with that, its most essential quality as a work 
of art. 

The great change that has crept into women's writing is, 
it would seem, a change of attitude. The woman writer is no 
longer bitter. She is no longer angry. She is no longer plead- 
ing and protesting as she writes. We are approaching, if we 
have not yet reached, the time when her writing will have 
little or no foreign influence to disturb it. She will be able to 
concentrate upon her vision without distraction from out- 
side. The aloofness that was once within the reach of genius 
and originality is only now coming within the reach of 
ordinary women. Therefore the average novel by a woman 



is far more genuine and far more interesting to-day than it 
was a hundred or even fifty years ago. 

But it is still true that before a woman can write exactly 
as she wishes to write, she has many difficulties to face. 
To begin with, there is the technical difficulty — so simple, 
apparently; in reality, so baffling — that the very form of the 
sentence does not fit her. It is a sentence made by men; it 
is too loose, too heavy, too pompous for a woman's use. Yet 
in a novel, which covers so wide a stretch of ground, an 
ordinary and usual type of sentence has to be found to carry 
the reader on easily and naturally from one end of the book 
to the other. And this a woman must make for herself, alter- 
ing and adapting the current sentence until she writes one 
that takes the natural shape of her thought without crushing 
or distorting it. 

But that, after all, is only a means to an end, and the end 
is still to be reached only when a woman has the courage to 
surmount opposition and the determination to be true to 
herself. For a novel, after all, is a statement about a thousand 
different objects — human, natural, divine; it is an attempt 
to relate them to each other. In every novel of merit these 
different elements are held in place by the force of the 
writer's vision. But they have another order also, which is 
the order imposed upon them by convention. And as men 
are the arbiters of that convention, as they have established 
an order of values in life, so too, since fiction is largely based 
on life, these values prevail there also to a very great extent. 

It is probable, however, that both in life and in art the 
values of a woman are not the values of a man. Thus, when 
a woman comes to write a novel, she will find that she is 
perpetually wishing to alter the established values — to make 
serious what appears insignificant to a man, and trivial 
what is to him important. And for that, of course, she will be 
criticized; for the critic of the opposite sex will be genuinely 
puzzled and surprised by an attempt to alter the current 
scale of values, and will see in it not merely a difference of 
view, but a view that is weak, or trivial, or sentimental, 
because it differs from his own. 



But here, too, women are coming to be more independent 
of opinion. They are beginning to respect their own sense of 
values. And for this reason the subject matter of their novels 
begins to show certain changes. They are less interested, it 
would seem, in themselves; on the other hand, they are 
more interested in other women. In the early nineteenth 
century, women's novels were largely autobiographical. One 
of the motives that led them to write was the desire to expose 
their own suffering, to plead their own cause. Now that this 
desire is no longer so urgent, women are beginning to 
explore their own sex, to write of women as women have 
never been written of before; for of course, until very lately, 
women in literature were the creation of men. 

Here again there are difficulties to overcome, for, if one 
may generalize, not only do women submit less readily to 
observation than men, but their lives are far less tested and 
examined by the ordinary processes of life. Often nothing 
tangible remains of a woman's day. The food that has been 
cooked is eaten; the children that have been nursed have 
gone out into the world. Where does the accent fall? What 
is the salient point for the novelist to seize upon? It is difficult 
to say. Her life has an anonymous character which is baffling 
and puzzling in the extreme. For the first time, this dark 
country is beginning to be explored in fiction; and at the 
same moment a woman has also to record the changes in 
women's minds and habits which the opening of the pro- 
fessions has introduced. She has to observe how their lives 
are ceasing to run underground; she has to discover what 
new colours and shadows are showing in them now that they 
are exposed to the outer world. 

If, then, one should try to sum up the character of 
women's fiction at the present moment, one would say that 
it is courageous; it is sincere; it keeps closely to what women 
feel. It is not bitter. It does not insist upon its femininity. 
But at the same time, a woman's book is not written as a 
man would write it. These qualities are much commoner 
than they were, and they give even to second- and third-rate 
work the value of truth and the interest of sincerity. 



But in addition to these good qualities, there are two that 
call for a word more of discussion. The change which has 
turned the English woman from a nondescript influence, 
fluctuating and vague, to a voter, a wage-earner, a respon- 
sible citizen, has given her both in her life and in her art a 
turn toward the impersonal. Her relations now are not only 
emotional; they are intellectual, they are political. The old 
system which condemned her to squint askance at things 
through the eyes or through the interests of husband or 
brother, has given place to the direct and practical interests 
of one who must act for herself, and not merely influence the 
acts of others. Hence her attention is being directed away 
from the personal centre which engaged it exclusively in the 
past to the impersonal, and her novels naturally become 
more critical of society, and less analytical of individual 

We may expect that the office of gadfly to the state, which 
has been so far a male prerogative, will now be discharged 
by women also. Their novels will deal with social evils and 
remedies. Their men and women will not be observed 
wholly in relation to each other emotionally, but as they 
cohere and clash in groups and classes and races. That is one 
change of some importance. But there is another more 
interesting to those who prefer the butterfly to the gadfly — 
that is to say, the artist to the reformer. The greater imper- 
sonality of women's lives will encourage the poetic spirit, 
and it is in poetry that women's fiction is still weakest. It 
will lead them to be less absorbed in facts and no longer 
content to record with astonishing acuteness the minute 
details which fall under their own observation. They will 
look beyond the personal and political relationships to the 
wider questions which the poet tries to solve — of our destiny 
and the meaning of life. 

The basis of the poetic attitude is of course largely founded 
upon material things. It depends upon leisure, and a little 
money, and the chance which money and leisure give to 
observe impersonally and dispassionately. With money and 
leisure at their service, women will naturally occupy them- 



selves more than has hitherto been possible with the craft of 
letters. They will make a fuller and a more subtle use of the 
instrument of writing. Their technique will become bolder 
and richer. 

In the past, the virtue of women's writing often lay in its 
divine spontaneity, like that of the blackbird's song or the 
thrush's. It was untaught; it was from the heart. But it was 
also, and much more often, chattering and garrulous — mere 
talk spilt over paper and left to dry in pools and blots. In 
future, granted time and books and a little space in the 
house for herself, literature will become for women, as for 
men, an art to be studied. Women's gift will be trained and 
strengthened. The novel will cease to be the dumping- 
ground for the personal emotions. It will become, more than 
at present, a work of art like any other, and its resources and 
its limitations will be explored. 

From this it is a short step to the practice of the sophisti- 
cated arts, hitherto so little practised by women — to the 
writing of essays and criticism, of history and biography. And 
that, too, if we are considering the novel, will be of advan- 
tage; for besides improving the quality of the novel itself, it 
will draw off the aliens who have been attracted to fiction by 
its accessibility while their hearts lay elsewhere. Thus will 
the novel be rid of those excrescences of history and fact 
which, in our time, have made it so shapeless. 

So, if we may prophesy, women in time to come will 
write fewer novels, but better novels; and not novels only, 
but poetry and criticism and history. But in this, to be sure, 
one is looking ahead to that golden, that perhaps fabulous, 
age when women will have what has so long been denied 
them — leisure, and money, and a room to themselves. 


An Essay in Criticism 1 

HUMAN credulity is indeed wonderful. There may be 
good reasons for believing in a King or a Judge or a 
Lord Mayor. When we see them go sweeping by in their 
robes and their wigs, with their heralds and their outriders, 
our knees begin to shake and our looks to falter. But what 
reason there is for believing in critics it is impossible to say. 
They have neither wigs nor outriders. They differ in no way 
from other people if one sees them in the flesh. Yet these 
insignificant fellow creatures have only to shut themselves 
up in a room, dip a pen in the ink, and call themselves 'we', 
for the rest of us to believe that they are somehow exalted, 
inspired, infallible. Wigs grow on their heads. Robes cover 
their limbs. No greater miracle was ever performed by the 
power of human credulity. And, like most miracles, this one, 
too, has had a weakening effect upon the mind of the 
believer. He begins to think that critics, because they call 
themselves so, must be right. He begins to suppose that 
something actually happens to a book when it has been 
praised or denounced in print. He begins to doubt and 
conceal his own sensitive, hesitating apprehensions when 
they conflict with the critics' decrees. 

And yet, barring the learned (and learning is chiefly 
useful in judging the work of the dead), the critic is rather 
more fallible than the rest of us. He has to give us his 
opinion of a book that has been published two days, perhaps, 
with the shell still sticking to its head. He has to get outside 
that cloud of fertile, but unrealized, sensation which hangs 
about a reader, to solidify it, to sum it up. The chances are 
that he does this before the time is ripe; he does it too 
rapidly and too definitely. He says that it is a great book or 
a bad book. Yet, as he knows, when he is content to read 

1 New York Herald Tribune, October 9, 1927. 



only, it is neither. He is driven by force of circumstances and 
some human vanity to hide those hesitations which beset 
him as he reads, to smooth out all traces of that crab-like 
and crooked path by which he has reached what he choses 
to call 'a conclusion'. So the crude trumpet blasts of critical 
opinion blow loud and shrill, and we, humble readers that 
we are, bow our submissive heads. 

But let us see whether we can do away with these pre- 
tences for a season and pull down the imposing curtain 
which hides the critical process until it is complete. Let us 
give the mind a new book, as one drops a lump of fish into a 
cage of fringed and eager sea anemones, and watch it paus- 
ing, pondering, considering its attack. Let us see what pre- 
judices affect it; what influences tell upon it. And if the 
conclusion becomes in the process a little less conclusive, it 
may, for that very reason, approach nearer to the truth. 
The first thing that the mind desires is some foothold of fact 
upon which it can lodge before it takes flight upon its specu- 
lative career. Vague rumours attach themselves to people's 
names. Of Mr. Hemingway, we know that he is an American 
living in France, an 'advanced' writer, we suspect, con- 
nected with what is called a movement, though which of the 
many we own that we do not know. It will be well to make 
a little more certain of these matters by reading first Mr. 
Hemingway's earlier book, The Sun Also Rises, and it soon 
becomes clear from this that, if Mr. Hemingway is 'ad- 
vanced', it is not in the way that is to us most interesting. 
A prejudice of which the reader would do well to take 
account is here exposed; the critic is a modernist. Yes, the 
excuse would be because the moderns make us aware of what 
we feel subconsciously; they are truer to our own experience; 
they even anticipate it, and this gives us a particular excite- 
ment. But nothing new is revealed about any of the char- 
acters in The Sun Also Rises. They come before us shaped, 
proportioned, weighed, exactly as the characters of Maupas- 
sant are shaped and proportioned. They are seen from the 
old angle; the old reticences, the old relations between 
author and character are observed. 



But the critic has the grace to reflect that this demand for 
new aspects and new perspectives may well be overdone. It 
may become whimsical. It may become foolish. For why 
should not art be traditional as well as original? Are we not 
attaching too much importance to an excitement which, 
though agreeable, may not be valuable in itself, so that we 
are led to make the fatal mistake of overriding the writer's 

At any rate, Mr. Hemingway is not modern in the sense 
given; and it would appear from his first novel that this 
rumour of modernity must have sprung from his subject 
matter and from his treatment of it rather than from any 
fundamental novelty in his conception of the art of fiction. 
It is a bare, abrupt, outspoken book. Life as people live it in 
Paris in 1927 or even in 1928 is described as we of this age 
do describe life (it is here that we steal a march upon the 
Victorians) openly, frankly, without prudery, but also with- 
out surprise. The immoralities and moralities of Paris are 
described as we are apt to hear them spoken of in private 
life. Such candour is modern and it is admirable. Then, for 
qualities grow together in art as in life, we find attached to 
this admirable frankness an equal bareness of style. Nobody 
speaks for more than a line or two. Half a line is mostly 
sufficient. If a hill or a town is described (and there is always 
some reason for its description) there it is, exactly and liter- 
ally built up of little facts, literal enough, but chosen, as the 
final sharpness of the outline proves, with the utmost care. 
Therefore, a few words like these: 'The grain was just begin- 
ning to ripen and the fields were full of poppies. The pasture 
land was green and there were fine trees, and sometimes big 
rivers and chateaux off in the trees ' — which have a curious 
force. Each word pulls its weight in the sentence. And the 
prevailing atmosphere is fine and sharp, like that of winter 
days when the boughs are bare against the sky. (But if we 
had to choose one sentence with which to describe what 
Mr. Hemingway attempts and sometimes achieves, we 
should quote a passage from a description of a bullfight: 
' Romero never made any contortions, always it was straight 



and pure and natural in line. The others twisted themselves 
like corkscrews, their elbows raised and leaned against the 
flanks of the bull after his horns had passed, to give a faked 
look of danger. Afterwards, all that was faked turned bad 
and gave an unpleasant feeling. Romero's bullfighting gave 
real emotion, because he kept the absolute purity of line in 
his movements and always quietly and calmly let the horns 
pass him close each time.') Mr. Hemingway's writing, one 
might paraphrase, gives us now and then a real emotion, 
because he keeps absolute purity of line in his movements 
and lets the horns (which are truth, fact, reality) pass him 
close each time. But there is something faked, too, which 
turns bad and gives an unpleasant feeling — that also we 
must face in course of time. 

And here, indeed, we may conveniently pause and sum 
up what point we have reached in our critical progress. 
Mr. Hemingway is not an advanced writer in the sense that 
he is looking at life from a new angle. What he sees is a 
tolerably familiar sight. Common objects like beer bottles 
and journalists figure largely in the foreground. But he is a 
skilled and conscientious writer. He has an aim and makes 
for it without fear or circumlocution. We have, therefore, to 
take his measure against somebody of substance, and not 
merely line him, for form's sake, beside the indistinct bulk of 
some ephemeral shape largely stuffed with straw. Reluc- 
tantly we reach this decision, for this process of measure- 
ment is one of the most difficult of a critic's tasks. He has to 
decide which are the most salient points of the book he 
has just read; to distinguish accurately to what kind they 
belong, and then, holding them against whatever model is 
chosen for comparison, to bring out their deficiency or 
their adequacy. 

Recalling The Sun Also Rises, certain scenes rise in memory: 
the bullfight, the character of the Englishman, Harris; here 
a little landscape which seems to grow behind the people 
naturally; here a long, lean phrase which goes curling round 
a situation like the lash of a whip. Now and again this 
phrase evokes a character brilliantly, more often a scene. Of 



character, there is little that remains firmly and solidly 
elucidated. Something indeed seems wrong with the people. 
If we place them (the comparison is bad) against Tchekov's 
people, they are flat as cardboard. If we place them (the 
comparison is better) against Maupassant's people they are 
crude as a photograph. If we place them (the comparison 
may be illegitimate) against real people, the people we liken 
them to are of an unreal type. They are people one may have 
seen showing off at some cafe; talking a rapid, high-pitched 
slang, because slang is the speech of the herd, seemingly 
much at their ease, and yet if we look at them a little from 
the shadow not at their ease at all, and, indeed, terribly 
afraid of being themselves, or they would say things simply 
in their natural voices. So it would seem that the thing that 
is faked is character; Mr. Hemingway leans against the 
flanks of that particular bull after the horns have passed. 

After this preliminary study of Mr. Hemingway's first 
book, we come to the new book, Men Without Women, pos- 
sessed of certain views or prejudices. His talent plainly may 
develop along different lines. It may broaden and fill out; 
it may take a little more time and go into things — human 
beings in particular — rather more deeply. And even if this 
meant the sacrifice of some energy and point, the exchange 
would be to our private liking. On the other hand, his is a 
talent which may contract and harden still further! it may 
come to depend more and more upon the emphatic moment; 
make more and more use of dialogue, and cast narrative and 
description overboard as an encumbrance. 

The fact that Men Without Women consists of short stories, 
makes it probable that Mr. Hemingway has taken the second 
line. But, before we explore the new book, a word should be 
said which is generally left unsaid, about the implications of 
the title. As the publisher puts it . . . 'the softening femi- 
nine influence is absent — either through training, discipline, 
death, or situation'. Whether we are to understand by this 
that women are incapable of training, discipline, death, or 
situation, we do not know. But it is undoubtedly true, if we 
are going to persevere in our attempt to reveal the processes 



of the critic's mind, that any emphasis laid upon sex is 
dangerous. Tell a man that this is a woman's book, or a 
woman that this is a man's, and you have brought into play 
sympathies and antipathies which have nothing to do with 
art. The greatest writers lay no stress upon sex one way or 
the other. The critic is not reminded as he reads them that 
he belongs to the masculine or the feminine gender. But in 
our time, thanks to our sexual perturbations, sex conscious- 
ness is strong, and shows itself in literature by an exaggera- 
tion, a protest of sexual characteristics which in either case is 
disagreeable. Thus Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Douglas, and Mr. 
Joyce partly spoil their books for women readers by their 
display of self-conscious virility; and Mr. Hemingway, but 
much less violently, follows suit. All we can do, whether we 
are men or women, is to admit the influence, look the fact in 
the face, and so hope to stare it out of countenance. 

To proceed then — Men Without Women consists of short 
stories in the French rather than in the Russian manner. 
The great French masters, Merimee and Maupassant, made 
their stories as self-conscious and compact as possible. There 
is never a thread left hanging; indeed, so contracted are they 
that when the last sentence of the last page flares up, as it so 
often does, we see by its light the whole circumference and 
significance of the story revealed. The Tchekov method is, 
of course, the very opposite of this. Everything is cloudy and 
vague, loosely trailing rather than tightly furled. The stories 
move slowly out of sight like clouds in the summer air, 
leaving a wake of meaning in our minds which gradually 
fades away. Of the two methods, who shall say which is the 
better? At any rate, Mr. Hemingway, enlisting under the 
French masters, carries out their teaching up to a point with 
considerable success. 

There are in Men Without Women many stories which, if 
life were longer, one would wish to read again. Most of them 
indeed are so competent, so efficient, and so bare of super- 
fluity that one wonders why they do not make a deeper dent 
in the mind than they do. Take the pathetic story of the 
Major whose wife died — 'In Another Country'; or the sar- 



clonic story of a conversation in a railway carriage — 'A 
Canary for One'; or stories like 'The Undefeated' and 
' Fifty Grand ' which are full of the sordidness and heroism 
of bull-fighting and boxing — all of these are good trenchant 
stories, quick, terse, and strong. If one had not summoned 
the ghosts of Tchekov, Merimee, and Maupassant, no doubt 
one would be enthusiastic. As it is, one looks about for some- 
thing, fails to find something, and so is brought again to the 
old familiar business of ringing impressions on the counter, 
and asking what is wrong? 

For some reason the book of short stories does not seem to 
us to go as deep or to promise as much as the novel. Perhaps 
it is the excessive use of dialogue, for Mr. Hemingway's use 
of it is surely excessive. A writer will always be chary of 
dialogue because dialogue puts the most violent pressure 
upon the reader's attention. He has to hear, to see, to supply 
the right tone, and to fill in the background from what the 
characters say without any help from the author. Therefore, 
when fictitious people are allowed to speak it must be 
because they have something so important to say that it 
stimulates the reader to do rather more than his share of the 
work of creation. But, although Mr. Hemingway keeps us 
under the fire of dialogue constantly, his people, half the 
time, are saying what the author could say much more 
economically for them. At last we are inclined to cry out 
with the little girl in ' Hills Like White Elephants ' : ' Would 
you please please please please please please stop talking?' 

And probably it is this superfluity of dialogue which leads 
to that other fault which is always lying in wait for the writer 
of short stories: the lack of proportion. A paragraph in 
excess will make these little craft lopsided and will bring 
about that blurred effect which, when one is out for clarity 
and point, so baffles the reader. And both these faults, the 
tendency to flood the page with unnecessary dialogue and 
the lack of sharp, unmistakable points by which we can take 
hold of the story, come from the more fundamental fact that, 
though Mr. Hemingway is brilliantly and enormously skil- 
ful, he lets his dexterity, like the bullfighter's cloak, get 



between him and the fact. For in truth story-writing has 
much in common with bullfighting. One may twist one's 
self like a corkscrew and go through every sort of contortion 
so that the public thinks one is running every risk and dis- 
playing superb gallantry. But the true writer stands close up 
to the bull and lets the horns — call them life, truth, reality, 
whatever you like — pass him close each time. 

Mr. Hemingway, then, is courageous; he is candid; he is 
highly skilled; he plants words precisely where he wishes; he 
has moments of bare and nervous beauty; he is modern in 
manner but not in vision; he is self-consciously virile; his 
talent has contracted rather than expanded; compared with 
his novel his stories are a little dry and sterile. So we sum 
him up. So we reveal some of the prejudices, the instincts 
and the fallacies out of which what it pleases us to call 
criticism is made. 


Phases of Fiction 1 

THE following pages attempt to record the impressions 
made upon the mind by reading a certain number of 
novels in succession. In deciding which book to begin with 
and which book to go on with, the mind was not pressed to 
make a choice. It was allowed to read what it liked. It was 
not, that is to say, asked to read historically, nor was it 
asked to read critically. It was asked to read only for interest 
and pleasure, and, at the same time, to comment as it 
read upon the nature of the interest and the pleasure 
that it found. It went its way, therefore, independent of 
time and reputation. It read Trollope before it read Jane 
Austen and skipped, by chance or negligence, some of 
the most celebrated books in English fiction. Thus, there 
is little reference or none to Fielding, Richardson, or 

Yet, if nobody save the professed historian and critic 
reads to understand a period or to revise a reputation, 
nobody reads simply by chance or without a definite scale 
of values. There is, to speak metaphorically, some design 
that has been traced upon our minds which reading brings 
to light. Desires, appetites, however we may come by them, 
fill it in, scoring now in this direction, now in that. Hence, 
an ordinary reader can often trace his course through litera- 
ture with great exactness and can even think himself, from 
time to time, in possession of a whole world as inhabitable 
as the real world. Such a world, it may be urged against it, 
is always in process of creation. Such a world, it may be 
added, likewise against it, is a personal world, a world 
limited and unhabitable perhaps by other people, a world 
created in obedience to tastes that may be peculiar to one 
temperament and distasteful to another — indeed, any such 

1 The Bookman, April, May, & June, 1929. 



record of reading, it will be concluded, is bound to be 
limited, personal, erratic. 

In its defence, however, it may be claimed that if the 
critic and the historian speak a more universal language, a 
more learned language, they are also likely to miss the centre 
and to lose their way for the simple reason that they know so 
many things about a writer that a writer does not know 
about himself. Writers are heard to complain that influences 
— education, heredity, theory — are given weight of which 
they themselves are unconscious in the act of creation. Is the 
author in question the son of an architect or a bricklayer? 
Was he educated at home or at the university? Does he 
come before or after Thomas Hardy? Yet not one of these 
things is in his mind, perhaps, as he writes and the reader's 
ignorance, narrowing and limiting as it is, has at least the 
advantage that it leaves unhampered what the reader has in 
common with the writer, though much more feebly: the 
desire to create. 

Here, then, very briefly and with inevitable simplifica- 
tions, an attempt is made to show the mind at work upon a 
shelf full of novels and to watch it as it chooses and rejects, 
making itself a dwelling-place in accordance with its own 
appetites. Of these appetites, perhaps, the simplest is the 
desire to believe wholly and entirely in something which is 
fictitious. That appetite leads on all the others in turn. 
There is no saying, for they change so much at different 
ages, that one appetite is better than another. The common 
reader is, moreover, suspicious of fixed labels and settled 
hierarchies. Still, since there must be an original impulse, 
let us give the lead to this one and start upon the shelf full of 
novels in order to gratify our wish to believe. 

The Truth-Tellers 

In English fiction there are a number of writers who gratify 
our sense of belief — Defoe, Swift, Trollope, Borrow, W. E. 
Norris, for example; among the French, one thinks instantly 



of Maupassant. Each of them assures us that things are 
precisely as they say they are. What they describe happens 
actually before our eyes. We get from their novels the same 
sort of refreshment and delight that we get from seeing 
something actually happen in the street below. A dustman, 
for example, by an awkward movement of his arm knocks 
over a bottle apparently containing Condy's Fluid which 
cracks upon the pavement. The dustman gets down; he 
picks up the jagged fragments of the broken bottle; he turns 
to a man who is passing in the street. We cannot take our 
eyes off him until we have feasted our powers of belief to the 
full. It is as if a channel were cut, into which suddenly and 
with great relief an emotion hitherto restrained rushes and 
pours. We forget whatever else we may be doing. This 
positive experience overpowers all the mixed and ambiguous 
feelings of which we may be possessed at the moment. The 
dustman has knocked over a bottle; the red stain is spreading 
on the pavement. It happens precisely so. 

The novels of the great truth-tellers, of whom Defoe is 
easily the English chief, procure for us a refreshment of this 
kind. He tells us the story of Moll Flanders, of Robinson 
Crusoe, of Roxana, and we feel our powers of belief rush 
into the channel, thus cut, instantly, fertilizing and refresh- 
ing our entire being. To believe seems the greatest of all 
pleasures. It is impossible to glut our greed for truth, so 
rapacious is it. There is not a shadowy or insubstantial word 
in the whole book to startle our nervous sense of security. 
Three or four strong, direct strokes of the pen carve out 
Roxana's character. Her dinner is set indisputably on the 
table. It consists of veal and turnips. The day is fine or 
cloudy; the month is April or September. Persistently, 
naturally, with a curious, almost unconscious iteration, 
emphasis is laid upon the very facts that most reassure us of 
stability in real life, upon money, furniture, food, until we 
seem wedged among solid objects in a solid universe. 

One element of our delight comes from the sense that this 
world, with all its circumstantiality, bright and round and 
hard as it is, is yet complete, so that in whatever direction 




we reach out for assurance we receive it. If we press on 
beyond the confines of each page, as it is our instinct to do, 
completing what the writer has left unsaid, we shall find 
that we can trace our way; that there are indications which 
let us realize them; there is an under side, a dark side to this 
world. Defoe presided over his universe with the omnipo- 
tence of a God, so that his world is perfectly in scale. 
Nothing is so large that it makes another thing too small; 
nothing so small that it makes another thing too large. 

The name of God is often found on the lips of his people, 
but they invoke a deity only a little less substantial than 
they are themselves, a being seated solidly not so very far 
above them in the tree tops. A divinity more mystical, could 
Defoe have made us believe in him, would so have dis- 
credited the landscape and cast doubt upon the substance 
of the men and women that our belief in them would have 
perished at the heart. Or, suppose that he let himself dwell 
upon the green shades of the forest depths or upon the 
sliding glass of the summer stream. Again, however much 
we were delighted by the description, we should have been 
uneasy because this other reality would have wronged the 
massive and monumental reality of Crusoe and Moll Flan- 
ders. As it is, saturated with the truth of his own universe, 
no such discrepancy is allowed to intrude. God, man, nature 
are all real, and they are all real with the same kind of 
reality — an astonishing feat, since it implies complete and 
perpetual submission on the writer's part to his conviction, 
an obdurate deafness to all the voices which seduce and 
tempt him to gratify other moods. We have only to reflect 
how seldom a book is carried through on the same impulse 
of belief, so that its perspective is harmonious throughout, to 
realize how great a writer Defoe was. One could number on 
one's fingers half a dozen novels which set out to be master- 
pieces and yet have failed because the belief flags; the 
realities are mixed; the perspective shifts and, instead of a 
final clarity, we get a baffling, if only a momentary, confusion. 

Having, now, feasted our powers of belief to the full and 
so enjoyed the relief and rest of this positive world existing so 



palpably and completely outside of us, there begins to come 
over us that slackening of attention which means that the 
nerve in use is sated for the time being. We have absorbed 
as much of this literal truth as we can and we begin to crave 
for something to vary it that will yet be in harmony with it. 
We do not want, except in a flash or a hint, such truth 
as Roxana offers us when she tells us how her master, the 
Prince, would sit by their child and ' loved to look at it when 
it was asleep'. For that truth is hidden truth; it makes us 
dive beneath the surface to realize it and so holds up the 
action. It is, then, action that we want. One desire having 
run its course, another leaps forward to take up the burden 
and no sooner have we formulated our desire than Defoe has 
given it to us. ' On with the story' — that cry is forever on his 
lips. No sooner has he got his facts assembled than the 
burden is floated. Perpetually springing up, fresh and effort- 
less, action and event, quickly succeeding each other thus 
set in motion this dense accumulation of facts and keep the 
breeze blowing in our faces. It becomes obvious, then, that 
if his people are sparely equipped and bereft of certain 
affections, such as love of husband and child, which we 
expect of people at leisure, it is that they may move quicker. 
They must travel light since it is for adventure that they are 
made. They will need quick wits, strong muscles, and rocky 
common sense on the road they are to travel rather than 
sentiment, reflection, or the power of self-analysis. 

Belief, then, is completely gratified by Defoe. Here, the 
reader can rest himself and enter into possession of a large 
part of his domain. He tests it; he tries it; he feels nothing 
give under him or fade before him. Still, belief seeks fresh 
sustenance as a sleeper seeks a fresh side of the pillow. He 
may turn, and this is likely, to someone closer to him in 
time than Defoe in order to gratify his desire for belief (for 
distance of time in a novel sets up picturesqueness, hence 
unfamiliarity) . If he should take down, for example, some 
book of a prolific and once esteemed novelist, like W. E. 
Norris, he will find that the juxtaposition of the two books 
brings each out more clearly. 



W. E. Norris was an industrious writer who is well worth 
singling out for inquiry if only because he represents that 
vast body of forgotten novelists by whose labours fiction is 
kept alive in the absence of the great masters. At first, we 
seem to be given all that we need: girls and boys, cricket, 
shooting, dancing, boating, lovemaking, marriage; a park 
here; a London drawing-room there; here, an English 
gentleman; there, a cad; dinners, tea-parties, canters in the 
Row; and, behind it all, green and gray, domestic and 
venerable, the fields and manor houses of England. Then, as 
one scene succeeds another, half-way through the book, we 
seem to have a great deal more belief on our hands than we 
know what to do with. We have exhausted the vividness of 
slang; the modernity, the adroit turn of mood. We loiter on 
the threshold of the scene, asking to be allowed to press a 
little further; we take some phrase, and look at it as if it 
ought to yield us more. Then, turning our eyes from the 
main figures, we try to sketch out something in the back- 
ground, to pursue these feelings and relations away from 
the present moment; not, needless to say, with a view to 
discovering some over-arching conception, something which 
we may call 'a reading of life'. No, our desire is otherwise: 
some shadow of depth appropriate to the bulk of the figures; 
some Providence such as Defoe provides or morality such as 
he suggests, so that we can go beyond the age itself without 
falling into inanity. 

Then, we discover it is the mark of a second-rate writer 
that he cannot pause here or suggest there. All his powers 
are strained in keeping the scene before us, its brightness 
and its credibility. The surface is all; there is nothing beyond. 

Our capacity for belief, however, is not in the least ex- 
hausted. It is only a question of finding something that will 
revive it for us. Not Shakespeare and not Shelley and not 
Hardy; perhaps, Trollope, Swift, Maupassant. Above all, 
Maupassant is the most promising at the moment, for 
Maupassant enjoys the great advantage that he writes in 
French. Not from any merit of his own, he gives us that 
little fillip which we get from reading a language whose 



edges have not been smoothed for us by daily use. The very 
sentences shape themselves in a way that is definitely 
charming. The words tingle and sparkle. As for English, 
alas, it is our language — shop-worn, not so desirable, perhaps. 
Moreover, each of these compact little stories has its pinch 
of gunpowder, artfully placed so as to explode when we 
tread on its tail. The last words are always highly charged. 
Off they go, bang, in our faces and there is lit up for us in 
one uncompromising glare someone with his hand lifted, 
someone sneering, someone turning his back, someone 
catching an omnibus, as if this insignificant action, what- 
ever it may be, summed up the whole situation forever. 

The reality that Maupassant brings before us is always 
one of the body, of the senses — the ripe flesh of a servant 
girl, for example, or the succulence of food. ' Elle restait 
inerte, ne sentant plus son corps, et l'esprit disperse, comme 
si quelqu'un l'eut d'echiquete avec un de ces instruments 
dont se servent les cardeurs pour effiloquer la laine des 
matelas.' Or her tears dried themselves upon her cheeks 
'comme des gouttes d'eau sur du fer rouge'. It is all con- 
crete; it is all visualized. It is a world, then, in which one can 
believe with one's eyes and one's nose and one's senses; 
nevertheless, it is a world which secretes perpetually a little 
drop of bitterness. Is this all? And, if this is all, is it enough? 
Must we, then, believe this? So we ask. Now that we are 
given truth unadorned, a disagreeable sensation seems 
attached to it, which we must analyse before we go further. 

Suppose that one of the conditions of things as they are 
is that they are unpleasant, have we strength enough to 
support that unpleasantness for the sake of the delight of 
believing in it? Are we not shocked somehow by Gulliver's 
Travels and Boule de suif and La Maison Tellier? Shall we not 
always be trying to get round the obstacle of ugliness by 
saying that Maupassant and his like are narrow, cynical, 
and unimaginative when, in fact, it is their truthfulness that 
we resent — the fact that leeches suck the naked legs of 
servant girls, that there are brothels, that human nature is 
fundamentally cold, selfish, corrupt? This discomfort at the 



disagreeableness of truth is one of the first things that shakes 
very lightly our desire to believe. Our Anglo-Saxon blood, 
perhaps, has given us an instinct that truth is, if not exactly 
beautiful, at least pleasant or virtuous to behold. But let us 
look once more at truth and, this time, through the eyes 
of Anthony Trollope, 'a big, blustering, spectacled, loud 
voiced hunting man . . . whose language in male society 
was, I believe, so lurid that I was not admitted to breakfast 
with him . . . who rode about the country establishing penny 
posts, and wrote, as the story goes, so many thousand words 
before breakfast every day of his life'. 1 

Certainly, the Barchester novels tell the truth, and the 
English truth, at first sight, is almost as plain of feature as 
the French truth, though with a difference. Mr. Slope is a 
hypocrite, with a 'pawing, greasy way with him'. Mrs. 
Proudie is a domineering bully. The Archdeacon is well- 
meaning but coarse-grained and thick-cut. Thanks to the 
vigour of the author, the world of which these are the most 
prominent inhabitants goes through its daily rigmarole of 
feeding and begetting children and worshipping with a 
thoroughness, a gusto, which leave us no loophole of escape. 
We believe in Barchester as we believe in the reality of our 
own weekly bills. Nor, indeed, do we wish to escape from 
the consequences of our belief, for the truth of the Slopes 
and the Proudies, the truth of the evening party where Mrs. 
Proudie has her dress torn off her back under the light of 
eleven gas jets, is entirely acceptable. 

At the top of his bent Trollope is a big, if not first-rate 
novelist, and the top of his bent came when he drove his pen 
hard and fast after the humours of provincial life and scored, 
without cruelty but with hale and hearty common sense, 
the portraits of those well-fed, black-coated, unimagina- 
tive men and women of the fifties. In his manner with 
them, and his manner is marked, there is an admirable 
shrewdness, like that of a family doctor or solicitor, too well 
acquainted with human foibles to judge them other than 
tolerantly and not above the human weakness of liking one 
1 Vignettes of Memory, by Lady Violet Greville, 1927. 


person a great deal better than another for no good reason. 
Indeed, though he does his best to be severe and is at his 
best when most so, he could not hold himself aloof, but let 
us know that he loved the pretty girl and hated the oily 
humbug so vehemently that it is only by a great pull on his 
reins that he keeps himself straight. It is a family party over 
which he presides and the reader who becomes, as time goes 
on, one of Trollope's most intimate cronies has a seat at his 
right hand. Their relation becomes confidential. 

All this, of course, complicates what was simple enough 
in Defoe and Maupassant. There, we were plainly and 
straightforwardly asked to believe. Here, we are asked to 
believe, but to believe through the medium of Trollope's 
temperament and, thus, a second relationship is set up with 
Trollope himself which, if it diverts us, distracts us also. 
The truth is no longer quite so true. The clear cold truth, 
which seems to lie before us unveiled in Gulliver's Travels and 
Moll Flanders and La Maison Tellier, is here garnished with a 
charming embroidery. But it is not from this attractive 
embellishment of Trollope's personality that the disease 
comes which in the end proves fatal to the huge, substantial, 
well buttressed, and authenticated truth of the Barchester 
novels. Truth itself, however unpleasant, is interesting 
always. But, unfortunately, the conditions of storytelling 
are harsh; they demand that scene shall follow scene; that 
party shall be supported by another party, one parsonage by 
another parsonage; that all shall be of the same calibre; that 
the same values shall prevail. If we are told here that the 
palace was lit by gas, we must be told there that the manor 
house was faithful to the oil lamp. But what will happen if, 
in process of solidifying the entire body of his story, the 
novelist finds himself out of facts or flagging in his invention? 
Must he then go on? Yes, for the story has to be finished: 
the intrigue discovered, the guilty punished, the lovers 
married in the end. The record, therefore, becomes at times 
merely a chronicle. Truth peters out into a thin-blooded 
catalogue. Better would it be, we feel, to leave a blank or 
even to outrage our sense of probability than to stuff the 



crevices with this makeshift substance: the wrong side of 
truth is a worn, dull fabric, unsteeped in the waters of 
imagination and scorched. But the novel has issued her 
orders; I consist, she says, of two and thirty chapters; and 
who am I, we seem to hear the sagacious and humble 
Trollope ask, with his usual good sense, that I should go 
disobeying the novel? And he manfully provides us with 

If, then, we reckon up what we have got from the truth- 
tellers, we find that it is a world where our attention is 
always being drawn to things which can be seen, touched, 
and tasted, so that we get an acute sense of the reality of our 
physical existence. Having thus established our belief, the 
truth-tellers at once contrive that its solidity shall be broken 
before it becomes oppressive by action. Events happen; 
coincidence complicates the plain story. But their actions 
are all in keeping one with another and they are extremely 
careful not to discredit them or alter the emphasis in any 
way by making their characters other than such people as 
naturally express themselves to the full in active and ad- 
venturous careers. Then, again, they hold the three great 
powers which dominate fiction — God, Nature, and Man — 
in stable relation so that we look at a world in proper per- 
spective; where, moreover, things hold good not only here 
at the moment in front of us but, there, behind that tree or 
among those unknown people far away in the shadow 
behind those hills. At the same time, truth-telling implies 
disagreeableness. It is part of truth — the sting and edge of 
it. We cannot deny that Swift, Defoe, and Maupassant all 
convince us that they reach a more profound depth in their 
ugliness than Trollope in his pleasantness. For this reason, 
truth-telling easily swerves a little to one side and becomes 
satiric. It walks beside the fact and apes it, like a shadow 
which is only a little more humped and angular than the 
object which casts it. Yet, in its perfect state, when we can 
believe absolutely, our satisfaction is complete. Then, we 
can say, though other states may exist which are better or 
more exalted, there is none that makes this unnecessary, 

1 02 


none that supersedes it. But truth-telling carries in its breast 
a weakness which is apparent in the works of the lesser 
writers or in the masters themselves when they are ex- 
hausted. Truth-telling is liable to degenerate into perfunc- 
tory fact-recording, the repetition of the statement that it 
was on Wednesday that the Vicar held his mother's meeting 
which was often attended by Mrs. Brown and Miss Dobson 
in their pony carriage, a statement which, as the reader is 
quick to perceive, has nothing of truth in it but the respect- 
able outside. 

At length, then, taking into account the perfunctory fact- 
recording, the lack of metaphor, the plainness of the lan- 
guage, and the fact that we believe most when the truth is 
most painful to us, it is not strange that we should become 
aware of another desire welling up spontaneously and 
making its way into those cracks which the great monuments 
of the truth-tellers wear inevitably upon their solid bases. 
A desire for distance, for music, for shadow, for space, takes 
hold of us. The dustman has picked up his broken bottle; 
he has crossed the road; he begins to lose solidity and detail 
over there in the evening dusk. 

The Romantics 

'It was a November morning, and the cliffs which over- 
looked the ocean were hung with thick and heavy mist, 
when the portals of the ancient and half ruinous tower, in 
which Lord Ravenswood had spent the last and troubled 
years of his life, opened, that his mortal remains might pass 
forward to an abode yet more dreary and lonely.' 

No change could be more complete. The dustman has 
become a Lord; the present has become the past; homely 
Anglo-Saxon speech has become Latin and many syllabled; 
instead of pots and pans, gas jets and snug broughams, we 
have a half-ruinous tower and cliffs, the ocean and Novem- 
ber, heavy in mist. This past and this ruin, this lord and this 
autumn, this ocean and this cliff are as delightful to us as 



the change from a close room and voices to the night and 
the open air. The curious softness and remoteness of the 
Bride ofLammermoor, the atmosphere of rusty moorland and 
splashing waves, the dark and the distance actually seem to 
be adding themselves to that other more truthful scene which 
we still hold in mind, and to be giving it completeness. 
After that storm this peace, after that glare this coolness. 
The truth-tellers had very little love, it seems, of nature. 
They used nature almost entirely as an obstacle to overcome 
or as a background to complete, not aesthetically for contem- 
plation or for any part it might play in the affairs of their 
characters. The town, after all, was their natural haunt. 
But let us compare them in more essential qualities: in their 
treatment of people. There comes towards us a girl tripping 
lightly and leaning on her father's arm: 

. . . 'Lucy Ashton's exquisitely beautiful, yet somewhat 
girlish features, were formed to express peace of mind, 
serenity, and indifference to the tinsel of worldly pleasure. 
Her locks, which were of shadowy gold, divided on a brow 
of exquisite whiteness, like a gleam of broken and pallid 
sunshine upon a hill of snow. The expression of the coun- 
tenance was in the last degree gentle, soft, timid and femi- 
nine, and seemed rather to shrink from the most casual look 
of a stranger than to court his admiration.' 

Nobody could less resemble Moll Flanders or Mrs. 
Proudie. Lucy Ashton is incapable of action or of self- 
control. The bull runs at her and she sinks to the ground; 
the thunder peals and she faints. She falters out the strangest 
little language of ceremony and politeness, ' O if you be a 
man, if you be a gentleman assist me to find my father'. One 
might say that she has no character except the traditional; 
to her father she is filial; to her lover, modest; to the poor, 
benevolent. Compared with Moll Flanders, she is a doll 
with sawdust in her veins and wax in her cheeks. Yet we 
have read ourselves into the book and grow familiar with its 
proportions. We come, at length, to see that anything more 
individual or eccentric or marked would lay emphasis where 
we want none. This tapering wraith hovers over the land- 



scape and is part of it. She and Edgar Ravenswood are 
needed to support this romantic world with their bare 
forms, to clasp it round with that theme of unhappy love 
which is needed to hold the rest together. But the world that 
they clasp has its own laws. It leaves out and eliminates no 
less drastically than the other. On the one hand, we have 
feelings of the utmost exaltation — love, hate, jealousy, 
remorse; on the other hand, raciness and simplicity in the 
extreme. The rhetoric of the Ashtons and Ravenswoods is 
completed by the humours of peasants and cackle of village 
women. The true romantic can swing us from earth to sky; 
and the great master of romantic fiction, who is undoubtedly 
Sir Walter Scott, uses his liberty to the full. At the same 
time, we retort upon this melancholy which he has called 
forth, as in the Bride of Lammermoor. We laugh at ourselves 
for having been so moved by machinery so absurd. How- 
ever, before we impute this defect to romance itself, we must 
consider whether it is not Scott's fault. This lazy-minded 
man was quite capable when the cold fit was on him of 
filling a chapter or two currently, conventionally, from a 
fountain of empty, journalistic phrases which, for all that 
they have a charm of their own, let the slackened attention 
sag still further. 

Carelessness has never been laid to the charge of Robert 
Louis Stevenson. He was careful, careful to a fault — a man 
who combined most strangely boy's psychology with the 
extreme sophistication of an artist. Yet, he obeyed no less 
implicitly than Walter Scott the laws of romance. He lays 
his scene in the past; he is always putting his characters to 
the sword's point with some desperate adventure; he caps 
his tragedy with homespun humour. Nor can there be any 
doubt that his conscience and his seriousness as a writer have 
stood him in good stead. Take any page of The Master of 
Ballantrae and it still stands wear and tear; but the fabric of 
the Bride of Lammermoor is full of holes and patches; it is 
scamped, botched, hastily flung together. Here, in Steven- 
son, romance is treated seriously and given all the advan- 
tages of the most refined literary art, with the result that we 



are never left to consider what an absurd situation this is or 
to reflect that we have no emotion left with which to meet 
the demand made upon us. We get, on the contrary, a firm, 
credible story, which never betrays us for a second, but is 
corroborated, substantiated, made good in every detail. 
With what precision and cunning a scene will be made 
visible to us as if the pen were a knife which sliced away the 
covering and left the core bare! 

' It was as he said: there was no breath stirring; a windless 
stricture of frost had bound the air; and as we went forth in 
the shine of the candles, the blackness was like a roof over 
our heads.' Or, again: 'All the 27th that rigorous weather 
endured; a stifling cold; folk passing about like smoking 
chimneys; the wide hearth in the hall piled high with fuel; 
some of the spring birds that had already blundered north 
into our neighbourhood besieging the windows of the house 
or trotting on the frozen turf like things distracted.' 

'A windless stricture of frost . . . folk passing about like 
smoking chimneys' — one may search the Waverley Novels 
in vain for such close writing as this. Separately, these 
descriptions are lovely and brilliant. The fault lies elsewhere, 
in the whole of which they are a part. For in those critical 
minutes which decide a book's fate, when it is finished and 
the book swims up complete in the mind and lets us look at 
it, something seems lacking. Perhaps it is that the detail 
sticks out too prominently. The mind is caught up by this 
fine passage of description, by that curious exactitude of 
phrase; but the rhythm and sweep of emotion which the 
story has started in us are denied satisfaction. We are 
plucked back when we should be swinging free. Our atten- 
tion is caught by some knot of ribbon or refinement of 
tracery when in fact we desire only a bare body against the 

Scott repels our taste in a thousand ways. But the crisis, 
that is the point where the accent falls and shapes the book 
under it, is right. Slouching, careless as he is, he will at the 
critical moment pull himself together and strike the one 
stroke needed, the stroke which gives the book its vividness 



in memory. Lucy sits gibbering 'couched like a hare upon 
its form'. 'So, you have ta'en up your bonnie bridegroom?' 
she says, dropping her fine lady's mincing speech for the 
vernacular. Ravenswood sinks beneath the quicksands. 'One 
only vestige of his fate appeared. A large sable feather had 
been detached from his hat, and the rippling waves of the 
rising tide wafted it to Caleb's feet. The old man took it up, 
dried it, and placed it in his bosom.' At both these points 
the writer's hand is on the book and it falls from him shaped. 
But in The Master of Ballantrae, though each detail is right 
and wrought so as separately to move our highest admira- 
tion, there is no such final consummation. What should have 
gone to help it seems, in retrospect, to stand apart from it. 
We remember the detail, but not the whole. Lord Durisdeer 
and the Master die together but we scarcely notice it. Our 
attention has been frittered away elsewhere. 

It would seem that the romantic spirit is an exacting one; 
if it sees a man crossing the road in the lamplight and then 
lost in the gloom of the evening, it at once dictates what 
course the writer must pursue. We do not wish, it will say, 
to know much about him. We desire that he shall express 
our capacity for being noble and adventurous; that he shall 
dwell among wild places and suffer the extremes of fortune; 
that he be endowed with youth and distinction and allied 
with moors, winds, and wild birds. He is, moreover, to be a 
lover, not in a minute, introspective way, but largely and in 
outline. His feelings must be part of the landscape; the 
shallow browns and blues of distant woods and harvest 
fields are to enter into them; a tower, perhaps, and a castle 
where the snapdragon flowers. Above all, the romantic 
spirit demands here a crisis and there a crisis in which the 
wave that has swollen in the breast shall break. Such feelings 
Scott gratifies more completely than Stevenson, though with 
enough qualification to make us pursue the question of 
romance and its scope and its limitations a little further. 
Perhaps here it might be interesting to read The Mysteries of 

The Mysteries of Udolpho have been so much laughed at as 



the type of Gothic absurdity that it is difficult to come at the 
book with a fresh eye. We come, expecting to ridicule. Then, 
when we find beauty, as we do, we go to the other extreme 
and rhapsodize. But the beauty and the absurdity of 
romance are both present and the book is a good test of the 
romantic attitude, since Mrs. Radcliffe pushes the liberties 
of romance to the extreme. Where Scott will go back a 
hundred years to get the effect of distance, Mrs. Radcliffe 
will go back three hundred. With one stroke, she frees her- 
self from a host of disagreeables and enjoys her freedom 

As a novelist, it is her desire to describe scenery and it is 
there that her great gift lies. Like every true writer, she 
shoulders her way past every obstacle to her goal. She brings 
us into a huge, empty, airy world. A few ladies and gentle- 
men, who are purely eighteenth century in mind, manner, 
and speech, wander about in vast champaigns, listen to 
nightingales singing amorously in midnight woods; see the 
sun set over the lagoon of Venice; and watch the distant 
Alps turn pink and blue from the turrets of an Italian castle. 
These people, when they are well born, are of the same 
blood as Scott's gentry; attenuated and formal silhouettes 
who have the same curious power of being in themselves 
negligible and insipid but of merging harmoniously in the 

Again, we feel the force which the romantic acquires by 
obliterating facts. With the sinking of the lights, the solidity 
of the foreground disappears, other shapes become apparent 
and other senses are roused. We become aware of the danger 
and darkness of our existence; comfortable reality has 
proved itself a phantom too. Outside our little shelter we 
hear the wind raging and the waves breaking. In this mood 
our senses are strained and apprehensive. Noises are audible 
which we should not hear normally. Curtains rustle. Some- 
thing in the semi-darkness seems to move. Is it alive? And 
what is it? And what is it seeking here? Mrs. Radcliffe suc- 
ceeds in making us feel all this, largely because she is able 
to make us aware of the landscape and, thus, induces a 

1 08 


detached mood favourable to romance; but in her, more 
plainly than in Scott or Stevenson, the absurdity is evident, 
the wheels of the machine are visible and the grinding is 
heard. She lets us see more clearly than they do what 
demands the romantic writer makes upon us. 

Both Scott and Stevenson, with the true instinct of the 
imagination, introduced rustic comedy and broad Scots 
dialect. It is in that direction, as they rightly divined, that 
the mind will unbend when it relaxes. Mrs. Radcliffe, on 
the other hand, having climbed to the top of her pinnacle, 
finds it impossible to come down. She tries to solace us with 
comic passages, put naturally into the mouths of Annette 
and Ludovico who are servants. But the break is too steep 
for her limited and ladylike mind and she pieces out her 
high moments and her beautiful atmosphere with a pale 
reflection of romance which is more tedious than any 
ribaldry. Mysteries abound. Murdered bodies multiply; 
but she is incapable of creating the emotion to feel them by, 
with the result that they lie there, unbelieved in; hence, 
ridiculous. The veil is drawn; there is the concealed figure; 
there is the decayed face; there are the writhing worms — 
and we laugh. 

Directly the power which lives in a book sinks, the whole 
fabric of the book, its sentences, the length and shape of 
them, its inflections, its mannerisms, all that it wore proudly 
and naturally under the impulse of a true emotion become 
stale, forced, unappetizing. Mrs. Radcliffe slips limply into 
the faded Scott manner and reels off page after page in a 
style illustrated by this example: 

Emily, who had always endeavoured to regulate her 
conduct by the nicest laws, and whose mind was finely 
sensible, not only of what is just in morals, but of whatever 
is beautiful in the feminine character, was shocked by 
these words. 

And so it slips along and so we sink and drown in the pale 
tide. Nevertheless, Udolpho passes this test: it gives us an 
emotion which is both distinct and unique, however high or 
low we rate the emotion itself. 



If we see now where the danger of romance lies: how 
difficult the mood is to sustain; how it needs the relief of 
comedy; how the very distance from common human 
experience and strangeness of its elements become ridicu- 
lous — if we see these things, we see also that these emotions 
are in themselves priceless jewels. The romantic novel 
realizes for us an emotion which is deep and genuine. Scott, 
Stevenson, Mrs. Radcliffe, all in their different ways, unveil 
another country of the land of fiction; and it is not the least 
proof of their power that they breed in us a keen desire for 
something different. 

The Character- Mongers and Comedians 

The novels which make us live imaginatively, with the 
whole of the body as well as the mind, produce in us the 
physical sensations of heat and cold, noise and silence, one 
reason perhaps why we desire change and why our reactions 
to them vary so much at different times. Only, of course, the 
change must not be violent. It is rather that we need a new 
scene; a return to human faces; a sense of walls and towns 
about us, with their lights and their characters after the 
silence of the wind-blown heath. 

After reading the romances of Scott and Stevenson and 
Mrs. Radcliffe, our eyes seem stretched, their sight a little 
blurred, as if they had been gazing into the distance and it 
would be a relief to turn for contrast to a strongly marked 
human face, to characters of extravagant force and character 
in keeping with our romantic mood. Such figures are most 
easily to be found in Dickens, of course, and particularly in 
Bleak House where, as Dickens said, 'I have purposely dwelt 
upon the romantic side of familiar things'. They are found 
there with peculiar aptness— for if the characters satisfy us 
by their eccentricity and vigour, London and the landscape 
of the Dedlocks' place at Chesney Wold are in the mood of 
the moor, only more luridly lit up and more sharply dark 
and bright because in Dickens the character-making power 

1 10 


is so prodigious that the very houses and streets and fields 
are strongly featured in sympathy with the people. The 
character-making power is so prodigious, indeed, that it has 
little need to make use of observation, and a great part of 
the delight of Dickens lies in the sense we have of wantoning 
with human beings twice or ten times their natural size of 
smallness who retain only enough human likeness to make 
us refer their feelings very broadly, not to our own, but to 
those of odd figures seen casually through the half-opened 
doors of public houses, lounging on quays, slinking mys- 
teriously down little alleys which lie about Holborn and the 
Law Courts. We enter at once into the spirit of exaggeration. 

Who, in the course of a long life, has met Mr. Chadband 
or Mr. Turveydrop or Miss Elite? Who has met anybody 
who, whatever the day of the occasion, can be trusted to say 
the same phrase, to repeat the same action? This perpetual 
repetition has, of course, an enormous power to drive these 
characters home, to stabilize them. Mr. Vholes, with his 
three dear girls at home and his father to support in the Vale 
of Taunton, Mrs. Jellyby and the natives of Borrioboola- 
Gha, Mr. Turveydrop and his deportment, all serve as 
stationary points in the flow and confusion of the narrative; 
they have a decorative effect as if they were gargoyles 
carved, motionless, at the corner of a composition. Wherever 
we may have wandered, we shall come back and find them 
there. They uphold the extraordinary intricacy of the plot 
in whose confusion we are often sunk up to our lips. For it is 
impossible to imagine that the Jellybys and the Turveydrops 
are ever affected by human emotions or that their habitual 
routine is disturbed by the astonishing events which blow 
through the pages of the book, from so many quarters at the 
same time. Thus they have a force, a sublimity, which the 
slighter and more idiosyncratic characters miss. 

After all, is not life itself, with its coincidences and its con- 
volutions, astonishingly queer? 'What connexion,' Dickens 
himself exclaims, 'can there have been between many 
people in the innumerable histories of this world, who, from 
opposite sides of great gulfs, have, nevertheless, been very 

ii i 


curiously brought together!' One after another his char- 
acters come into being, called into existence by an eye 
which has only to glance into a room to take in every object, 
human or inanimate, that is there; by an eye which sees 
once and for all; which snatches at a woman's steel hair- 
curlers, a pair of red-rimmed eyes, a white scar and makes 
them somehow reveal the essence of a character; an eye 
gluttonous, restless, insatiable, creating more than it can 
use. Thus, the prevailing impression is one of movement, of 
the endless ebb and flow of life round one or two stationary 

Often we cease to worry about the plot and wander off 
down some strange avenue of suggestion stirred in this vast 
and mobile world by a casual movement, a word, a glance. 
'Still, very steadfastly and quietly walking towards it, a 
peaceful figure, too, in the landscape, went Mademoiselle 
Hortense, shoeless, through the wet grass.' She goes and 
she leaves a strange wake of emotion behind her. Or, again, 
a door is flung open in the misty purlieus of London; there 
is Mr. Tulkinghorn's friend, who appears once and once 
only — 'a man of the same mould and a lawyer too, who 
lived the same kind of life until he was seventy-five years 
old, and then, suddenly conceiving (as it is supposed) an 
impression that it was too monotonous, gave his gold watch 
to his hairdresser one summer evening, and walked leisurely 
home to the Temple, and hanged himself. 

This sense that the meaning goes on after the words are 
spoken, that doors open and let us look through them, is full 
of romance. But romance in Dickens is impressed on us 
through characters, through extreme types of human beings, 
not through castles or banners, not through the violence of 
action, adventure, or nature. Human faces, scowling, grin- 
ning, malignant, benevolent, are projected at us from every 
corner. Everything is unmitigated and extreme. 

But at last, among all these characters who are so static 
and so extreme, we come upon one — Inspector Bucket, the 
detective — which is not, as the others are, of a piece, but 
made up of contrasts and discrepancies. The romantic power 



of the single-piece character is lost. For the character is no 
longer fixed and part of the design; it is in itself of interest. 
Its movements and changes compel us to watch it. We try 
to understand this many-sided man who has brushed his 
hair, which is thin, with a wet brush; who has his bombastic, 
official side, yet with it combines, as we see when the mine 
sprung, ability, conscience, even compassion — for all these 
qualities are displayed by turns in the astonishingly vivid 
account of the drive through the night and the storm, in 
pursuit of Esther's mother. If much more were added, so 
that Inspector Bucket drew more of our attention to him 
and diverted it from the story, we should begin with his new 
scale of values in our eyes to find the glaring opposites in 
use elsewhere too violent to be tolerable. But Dickens com- 
mitted no such sin against his readers. He uses this clear-cut, 
many-faced figure to sharpen his final scenes and, then, 
letting Inspector Bucket of the detective force disappear, 
gathers the loose folds of the story into one prodigious armful 
and makes an end. But he has sharpened our curiosity and 
made us dissatisfied with the limitations and even with the 
exuberance of his genius. The scene becomes too elastic, too 
voluminous, too cloud-like in its contours. The very abund- 
ance of it tires us, as well as the impossibility of holding it all 
together. We are always straying down bypaths and into 
alleys where we lose our way and cannot remember where 
we were going. 

Though the heart of Dickens burned with indignation for 
public wrongs, he lacked sensitiveness privately, so that his 
attempts at intimacy failed. His great figures are on too 
large a scale to fit nicely into each other. They do not inter- 
lock. They need company to show them off and action to 
bring out their humours. They are often out of touch with 
each other. In Tolstoy, in the scenes between Princess Marya 
and her father, the old Prince, the pressure of character 
upon character is never relaxed. The tension is perpetual, 
every nerve in the character is alive. It may be for this 
reason that Tolstoy is the greatest of novelists. In Dickens 
the characters are impressive in themselves but not in their 



personal relations. Often, indeed, when they talk to each 
other they are vapid in the extreme or sentimental beyond 
belief. One thinks of them as independent, existing forever, 
unchanged, like monoliths looking up into the sky. So it is 
that we begin to want something smaller, more intense, 
more intricate. Dickens has, himself, given us a taste of the 
pleasure we derive from looking curiously and intently into 
another character. He has made us instinctively reduce the 
size of the scene in proportion to the figure of a normal man, 
and now we seek this intensification, this reduction, carried 
out more perfectly and more completely, we shall find, in 
the novels of Jane Austen. 

At once, when we open Pride and Prejudice, we are aware 
that the sentence has taken on a different character. Dickens, 
of course, at full stride is as free-paced and far-stretched as 
possible. But in comparison with this nervous style, how 
large-limbed and how loose. The sentence here runs like a 
knife, in and out, cutting a shape clear. It is done in a 
drawing-room. It is done by the use of dialogue. Half a 
dozen people come together after dinner and begin, as they 
so well might, to discuss letter-writing. Mr. Darcy writes 
slowly and 'studies too much for words of four syllables'. 
Mr. Bingley, on the other hand (for it is necessary that we 
should get to know them both and they can be quickest 
shown if they are opposed) ' leaves out half his words and 
blots the rest'. But such is only the first rough shaping that 
gives the outline of the face. We go on to define and dis- 
tinguish. Bingley, says Darcy, is really boasting, when he 
calls himself a careless letter-writer because he thinks the 
defect interesting. It was a boast when he told Mrs. Bennet 
that if he left Nethfield he would be gone in five minutes. 
And this little passage of analysis on Darcy's part, besides 
proving his astuteness and his cool observant temper, rouses 
Bingley to show us a vivacious picture of Darcy at home. ' I 
don't know a more awful object than Darcy, on particular 
occasions, and in particular places; at his own house especi- 
ally, and of a Sunday evening, when he has nothing to do.' 

So, by means of perfectly natural question and answer, 

1 14 


everyone is defined and, as they talk, they become not only 
more clearly seen, but each stroke of the dialogue brings 
them together or moves them apart, so that the group is no 
longer casual but interlocked. The talk is not mere talk; it 
has an emotional intensity which gives it more than bril- 
liance. Light, landscape — everything that lies outside the 
drawing-room is arranged to illumine it. Distances are made 
exact; arrangements accurate. It is one mile from Meryton; 
it is Sunday and not Monday. We want all suspicions and 
questions laid at rest. It is necessary that the characters 
should lie before us in as clear and quiet a light as possible 
since every flicker and tremor is to be observed. Nothing 
happens, as things so often happen in Dickens, for its own 
oddity or curiosity but with relation to something else. No 
avenues of suggestion are opened up, no doors are suddenly 
flung wide; the ropes which tighten the structure, since they 
are all rooted in the heart, are so held firmly and tightly. 
For, in order to develop personal relations to the utmost, it 
is important to keep out of the range of the abstract, the 
impersonal; and to suggest that there is anything that lies 
outside men and women would be to cast the shadow of 
doubt upon the comedy of their relationships and its suffi- 
ciency. So with edged phrases where often one word, set 
against the current of the phrase, serves to fledge it (thus: 
'and whenever any of the cottagers were disposed to be 
quarrelsome, discontented, or too poor'') we go down to the 
depths, for deep they are, for all their clarity. 

But personal relations have limits, as Jane Austen seems 
to realize by stressing their comedy. Everything, she seems 
to say, has, if we could discover it, a reasonable summing up; 
and it is extremely amusing and interesting to see the efforts 
of people to upset the reasonable order, defeated as they 
invariably are. But if, complaining of the lack of poetry or 
the lack of tragedy, we are about to frame the familiar state- 
ment that this is a world which is too small to satisfy us, a 
prosaic world, a world of inches and blades of grass, we are 
brought to a pause by another impression which requires a 
moment further of analysis. Among all the elements which 



play upon us in reading fiction there has always been, 
though in different degrees, some voice, accent, or tem- 
perament clearly heard, though behind the scenes of the 
book. 'Trollope, the novelist, a big, blustering, spectacled, 
loud-voiced, hunting man'; Scott, the ruined, country 
gentleman, whose very pigs trotted after him, so gracious 
was the sound of his voice — both come to us with the ges- 
ture of hosts, welcoming us, and we fall under the spell of 
their charm or the interest of their characters. 

We cannot say this of Jane Austen, and her absence has 
the effect of making us detached from her work and of 
giving it, for all its sparkle and animation, a certain aloof- 
ness and completeness. Her genius compelled her to absent 
herself. So truthful, so clear, so sane a vision would not 
tolerate distraction, even if it came from her own claims, 
nor allow the actual experience of a transitory woman to 
colour what should be unstained by personality. For this 
reason, then, though we may be less swayed by her, we are 
less dissatisfied. It may be the very idiosyncrasy of a writer 
that tires us of him. Jane Austen, who has so little that is 
peculiar, does not tire us, nor does she breed in us a desire 
for those writers whose method and style differ altogether 
from hers. Thus, instead of being urged as the last page is 
finished to start in search of something that contrasts and 
completes, we pause when we have read Pride and Prejudice. 

The pause is the result of a satisfaction which turns our 
minds back upon what we have just read, rather than for- 
ward to something fresh. Satisfaction is, by its nature, 
removed from analysis, for the quality which satisfies us is 
the sum of many different parts, so that if we begin praising 
Pride and Prejudice for the qualities that compose it — its wit, 
its truth, its profound comic power — we shall still not praise 
it for the quality which is the sum of all these. At this point, 
then, the mind, brought to bay, escapes the dilemma and 
has recourse to images. We compare Pride and Prejudice to 
something else because, since satisfaction can be defined no 
further, all the mind can do is to make a likeness of the 
thing, and, by giving it another shape, cherish the illusion 



that it is explaining it, whereas it is, in fact, only looking at 
it afresh. To say that Pride and Prejudice is like a shell, a gem, 
a crystal, whatever image we may choose, is to see the same 
thing under a different guise. Yet, perhaps, if we compare 
Pride and Prejudice to something concrete, it is because we are 
trying to express the sense we have in other novels imper- 
fectly, here with distinctness, of a quality which is not in the 
story but above it, not in the things themselves but in their 

Pride and Prejudice, one says, has form; Bleak House has not. 
The eye (so active always in fiction) gives its own interpreta- 
tion of impressions that the mind has been receiving in 
different terms. The mind has been conscious in Pride and 
Prejudice that things are said, for all their naturalness, with a 
purpose; one emotion has been contrasted with another; 
one scene has been short, the next long; so that all the time, 
instead of reading at random, without control, snatching at 
this and that, stressing one thing or another, as the mood 
takes us, we have been aware of check and stimulus, of 
spectral architecture built up behind the animation and 
variety of the scene. It is a quality so precise it is not to be 
found either in what is said or in what is done; that is, it 
escapes analysis. It is a quality, too, that is much at the 
mercy of fiction. Its control is invariably weak there, much 
weaker than in poetry or in drama because fiction runs so 
close to life the two are always coming into collison. That 
this architectural quality can be possessed by a novelist, 
Jane Austen proves. And she proves, too, that far from 
chilling the interest or withdrawing the attention from the 
characters, it seems on the contrary to focus it and add an 
extra pleasure to the book, a significance. It makes it seem 
that here is something good in itself, quite apart from our 
personal feelings. 

Not to seek contrast but to start afresh — this is the impulse 
which urges us on after finishing Pride and Prejudice. We must 
make a fresh start altogether. Personal relations, we recall, 
have limits. In order to keep their edges sharp, the mys- 
terious, the unknown, the accidental, the strange subside; 



their intervention would be confusing and distressing. The 
writer adopts an ironic attitude to her creatures, because 
she has denied them so many adventures and experiences. 
A suitable marriage is, after all, the upshot of all this 
coming together and drawing apart. A world which so often 
ends in a suitable marriage is not a world to wring one's 
hands over. On the contrary, it is a world about which we 
can be sarcastic; into which we can peer endlessly, as we fit 
the jagged pieces one into another. Thus, it is possible to 
ask not that her world shall be improved or altered (that 
our satisfaction forbids) but that another shall be struck oft', 
whose constitution shall be different and shall allow of the 
other relations. People's relations shall be with God or 
nature. They shall think. They shall sit, like Dorothea 
Casaubon in Middlemarch, drawing plans for other people's 
houses; they shall suffer like Gissing's characters in solitude; 
they shall be alone. Pride and Prejudice, because it has such 
integrity of its own, never for an instant encroaches on other 
provinces, and, thus, leaves them more clearly defined. 

Nothing could be more complete than the difference 
between Pride and Prejudice and Silas Marner. Between us and 
the scene which was so near, so distinct, is now cast a 
shadow. Something intervenes. The character of Silas 
Marner is removed from us. It is held in relation to other 
men and his life compared with human life. This comparison 
is perpetually made and illustrated by somebody not implicit 
in the book but inside it, somebody who at once reveals 
herself as 'I', so that there can be no doubt from the first 
that we are not going to get the relations of people together, 
but the spectacle of life so far as ' I ' can show it to us. ' I ' 
will do my best to illumine these particular examples of men 
and women with all the knowledge, all the reflections that 
' I ' can offer you. 

' I ', we at once perceive, has access to many more experi- 
ences and reflections than can have come the way of the 
rustics themselves. She discovers what a simple weaver's 
emotions on leaving his native village are, by comparing 
them with those of other people. ' People whose lives have 



been made various by learning, sometimes find it hard to 
keep a fast hold on their habitual views of life, on their faith 
in the Invisible. . . .' It is the observer speaking and we are 
at once in communication with a grave mind — a mind 
which it is part of our business to understand. This, of course, 
darkens and thickens the atmosphere, for we see through so 
many temperaments; so many side-lights from knowledge, 
from reflection, play upon what we see; often, even as we are 
watching the weaver, our minds circle round him and we 
observe him with an amusement, compassion, or interest 
which it is impossible that he should feel himself. 

Raveloe is not simply a town like Meryton now in exist- 
ence with certain shops and assembly room; it has a past and 
therefore the present becomes fleeting, and we enjoy, among 
other things, the feeling that this is a world in process of 
change and decay, whose charm is due partly to the fact that 
it is past. Perhaps we compare it in our own minds with the 
England of to-day and the Napoleonic wars with those of 
our own time. All this, if it serves to enlarge the horizon, also 
makes the village and the people in it who are placed against 
so wide a view smaller and their impact on each other less 
sharp. The novelist who believes that personal relations are 
enough, intensifies them and sharpens them and devotes his 
power to their investigation. But if the end of life is not to 
meet, to part, to love, to laugh, if we are at the mercy of 
other forces, some of them unknown, all of them beyond our 
power, the urgency of these meetings and partings is blurred 
and lessened. The edges of the coming together are blunted 
and the comedy tends to widen itself into a larger sphere 
and so to modulate into something melancholy, tolerant, 
and perhaps resigned. George Eliot has removed herself too 
far from her characters to dissect them keenly or finely, but 
she has gained the use of her own mind upon these same 
characters. Jane Austen went in and out of her people's 
minds like the blood in their veins. 

George Eliot has kept the engine of her clumsy and 
powerful mind at her own disposal. She can use it, when 
she has created enough matter to use it upon, freely. She can 



stop at any moment to reason out the motives of the mind 
that has created it. When Silas Marner discovers that his 
gold has been stolen, he has recourse to ' that sort of refuge 
which always comes with the prostration of thought under 
an overpowering passion; it was that expectation of impos- 
sibilities, that belief in contradictory images, which is still 
distinct from madness, because it is capable of being dissi- 
pated by the external fact'. Such analysis is unthinkable in 
Dickens or in Jane Austen. But it adds something to the 
character which the character lacked before. It makes us 
feel not only that the working of the mind is interesting but 
that we shall get a much truer and subtler understanding of 
what is actually said and done if we so observe it. We shall 
perceive that often an action has only a slight relation to a 
feeling and, thus, that the truth-tellers, who are content to 
record accurately what is said and done are often ludicrously 
deceived and out in their estimate. In other directions there 
are changes. The use of dialogue is limited; for people can 
say very little directly. Much more can be said for them or 
about them by the writer himself. Then, the writer's mind, 
his knowledge, his skill, not merely the colour of his tem- 
perament, become means for bringing out the disposition 
of the character and also for relating it to other times and 
places. There is thus revealed underneath a state of mind 
which often runs counter to the action and the speech. 

It is in this direction that George Eliot turns her char- 
acters and her scenes. Shadows checker them. All sorts of 
influences of history, or time, or reflection play upon them. 
If we consult our own difficult and mixed emotions as we 
read, it becomes clear that we are fast moving out of the 
range of pure character-mongering, of comedy, into a far 
more dubious region. 

The Psychologists 

Indeed, we have a strange sense of having left every world 
when we take up What Maisie Knew; of being without some 



support which, even if it impeded us in Dickens and George 
Eliot, upheld us and controlled us. The visual sense which 
has hitherto been so active, perpetually sketching fields and 
farmhouses and faces, seems now to fail or to use its powers 
to illumine the mind within rather than the world without. 
Henry James has to find an equivalent for the processes of 
the mind, to make concrete a mental state. He says, she was 
'a ready vessel for bitterness, a deep little porcelain cup in 
which biting acids could be mixed'. He is forever using this 
intellectual imagery. The usual supports, the props and 
struts of the conventions, expressed or observed by the 
writer, are removed. Everything seems aloof from inter- 
ference, thrown open to discussion and light, though resting 
on no visible support. For the minds of which this world is 
composed seem oddly freed from the pressure of the old 
encumbrances and raised above the stress of circumstances. 

Crises cannot be precipitated by any of the old devices 
which Dickens and George Eliot used. Murders, rapes, 
seductions, sudden deaths have no power over this high, 
aloof world. Here the people are the sport only of delicate 
influences: of thoughts that people think, but hardly state, 
about each other; of judgments which people whose time 
is unoccupied have leisure to devise and apply. In conse- 
quence, these characters seem held in a vacuum at a great 
move from the substantial, lumbering worlds of Dickens and 
George Eliot or from the precise crisscross of convention 
which metes out the world of Jane Austen. They live in a 
cocoon, spun from the finest shades of meaning, which a 
society, completely unoccupied by the business of getting its 
living, has time to spin round and about itself. Hence, we 
are at once conscious of using faculties hitherto dormant, 
ingenuity and skill, a mental nimbleness and dexterity such 
as serve to solve a puzzle ingeniously; our pleasure becomes 
split up, refined, its substance infinitely divided instead of 
being served to us in one lump. 

Maisie, the little girl who is the bone of contention be- 
tween two parents, each of them claiming her for six months, 
each of them finally marrying a second husband or wife, lies 



sunk beneath the depths of suggestion, hint, and conjecture, 
so that she can only affect us very indirectly, each feeling of 
hers being deflected and reaching us after glancing off the 
mind of some other person. Therefore she rouses in us no 
simple and direct emotion. We always have time to watch it 
coming and to calculate its pathway, now to the right, now 
to the left. Cool, amused, intrigued, at every second trying 
to refine our senses still further and to marshal all that we 
have of sophisticated intelligence into one section of our- 
selves, we hang suspended over this aloof little world and 
watch with intellectual curiosity for the event. 

In spite of the fact that our pleasure is less direct, less the 
result of feeling strongly in sympathy with some pleasure or 
sorrow, it has a fineness, a sweetness, which the more direct 
writers fail to give us. This comes in part from the fact that 
a thousand emotional veins and streaks are perceptible in 
this twilight or dawn which are lost in the full light of 

Besides this fineness and sweetness we get another pleasure 
which comes when the mind is freed from the perpetual 
demand of the novelist that we shall feel with his characters. 
By cutting off the responses which are called out in actual 
life, the novelist frees us to take delight, as we do when ill or 
travelling, in things in themselves. We can see the strange- 
ness of them only when habit has ceased to immerse us in 
them, and we stand outside watching what has no power 
over us one way or the other. Then we see the mind at work; 
we are amused by its power to make patterns; by its power 
to bring out relations in things and disparities which are 
covered over when we are acting by habit or driven on by 
the ordinary impulses. It is a pleasure somewhat akin, per- 
haps, to the pleasure of mathematics or the pleasure of 
music. Only, of course, since the novelist is using men and 
women as his subjects, he is perpetually exciting feelings 
which are opposed to the impersonality of numbers and 
sound; he seems, in fact, to ignore and to repress their 
natural feelings, to be coercing them into a plan which we 
call with vague resentment 'artificial' though it is probable 



that we are not so foolish as to resent artifice in art. Either 
through a feeling of timidity or prudery or through a lack of 
imaginative audacity, Henry James diminishes the interest 
and importance of his subject in order to bring about a 
symmetry which is dear to him. This his readers resent. We 
feel him there, as the suave showman, skilfully manipulating 
his characters; nipping, repressing; dexterously evading and 
ignoring, where a writer of greater depth or natural spirits 
would have taken the risk which his material imposes, let 
his sails blow full and so, perhaps, achieved symmetry and 
pattern, in themselves so delightful, all the same. 

But it is the measure of Henry James's greatness that he 
has given us so definite a world, so distinct and peculiar a 
beauty that we cannot rest satisfied but want to experiment 
further with these extraordinary perceptions, to understand 
more and more, but to be free from the perpetual tutelage 
of the author's presence, his arrangements, his anxieties. To 
gratify this desire, naturally, we turn to the work of Proust, 
where we find at once an expansion of sympathy so great 
that it almost defeats its own object. If we are going to 
become conscious of everything, how shall we realize any- 
thing? Yet if Henry James's world, after the worlds of 
Dickens and George Eliot, seemed without material boun- 
daries, if everything was pervious to thought and susceptible 
of twenty shades of meaning, here illumination and analysis 
are carried far beyond those bounds. For one thing, Henry 
James himself, the American, ill at ease for all his magnifi- 
cent urbanity in a strange civilization, was an obstacle never 
perfectly assimilated even by the juices of his own art. 
Proust, the product of the civilization which he describes, is 
so porous, so pliable, so perfectly receptive that we realize 
him only as an envelope, thin but elastic, which stretches 
wider and wider and serves not to enforce a view but to 
enclose a world. His whole universe is steeped in the light of 
intelligence. The commonest object, such as the telephone, 
loses its simplicity, its solidity, and becomes a part of life 
and transparent. The commonest actions, such as going up 
in an elevator or eating cake, instead of being discharged 



automatically, rake up in their progress a whole series of 
thoughts, sensations, ideas, memories which were apparently 
sleeping on the walls of the mind. 

What are we to do with it all? we cannot help asking, as 
these trophies are piled up round us. The mind cannot be 
content with holding sensation after sensation passively to 
itself; something must be done with them; their abundance 
must be shaped. Yet at first it would seem as if this vitalizing 
power has become so fertile that it cumbers the way and 
trips us up, even when we have need to go quickest, by 
putting some curious object enticingly in our way. We have 
to stop and look even against our will. 

Thus, when his mother calls him to come to his grand- 
mother's deathbed, the author says, '"I was not asleep," I 
answered as I awoke'. Then, even in this crisis, he pauses to 
explain carefully and subtly why at the moment of waking 
we so often think for a second that we have not been to 
sleep. The pause, which is all the more marked because the 
reflection is not made by ' I ' himself but'is supplied imper- 
sonally by the narrator and therefore, from a different angle, 
lays a great strain upon the mind, stretched by the urgency 
of the situation to focus itself upon the dying woman in the 
next room. 

Much of the difficulty of reading Proust comes from this 
content obliquity. In Proust, the accumulation of objects 
which surround any central point is so vast and they are 
often so remote, so difficult of approach and of apprehension 
that this drawing-together process is gradual, tortuous, and 
the final relation difficult in the extreme. There is so much 
more to think about them than one had supposed. One's 
relations are not only with another person but with the 
weather, food, clothes, smells, with art and religion and 
science and history and a thousand other influence^. 

If one begins to analyse consciousness, it will be found 
that it is stirred by thousands of small, irrelevant ideas 
stuffed with odds and ends of knowledge. When, therefore, 
we come to say something so usual as ' I kissed her', we may 
well have to explain also how a girl jumped over a man in a 



deck-chair on the beach before we come tortuously and 
gradually to the difficult process of describing what a kiss 
means. In any crisis, such as the death of the grandmother 
or that moment when the Duchess learns as she steps into 
her carriage that her old friend Swann is fatally ill, the 
number of emotions that compose each of these scenes is 
immensely larger, and they are themselves much more 
incongruous and difficult of relation than any other scene 
laid before us by a novelist. 

Moreover, if we ask for help in finding our way, it does 
not come through any of the usual channels. We are never 
told, as the English novelists so frequently tell us, that one 
way is right and the other wrong. Every way is thrown open 
without reserve and without prejudice. Everything that can 
be felt can be said. The mind of Proust lies open with the 
sympathy of a poet and the detachment of a scientist to 
everything that it has the power to feel. Direction or em- 
phasis, to be told that that is right, to be nudged and bidden 
to attend to that, would fall like a shadow on this profound 
luminosity and cut off some section of it from our view. The 
common stuff of the book is made of this deep reservoir of 
perception. It is from these depths that his characters rise, 
like waves forming, then break and sink again into the 
moving sea of thought and comment and analysis which 
gave them birth. 

In retrospect, thus, though as dominant as any characters 
in fiction, the characters of Proust seem made of a different 
substance. Thoughts, dreams, knowledge are part of them. 
They have grown to their full stature, and their actions have 
met with no rebuff. If we look for direction to help us put 
them in their places in the universe, we find it negatively in 
an absence of direction — perhaps sympathy is of more value 
than interference, understanding than judgment. As a conse- 
quence of the union of the thinker and the poet, often, on 
the heel of some fanatically precise observation, we come 
upon a flight of imagery — beautiful, coloured, visual, as if 
the mind, having carried its powers as far as possible in 
analysis, suddenly rose in the air and from a station high up 



gave us a different view of the same object in terms of meta- 
phor. This dual vision makes the great characters in Proust 
and the whole world from which they spring more like a 
globe, of which one side is always hidden, than a scene laid 
flat before us, the whole of which we can take in at one 

To make this more precise, it might be well to choose 
another writer, of foreign birth also, who has the same power 
of illuminating the consciousness from its roots to the surface. 
Directly we step from the world of Proust to the world of 
Dostoevsky, we are startled by differences which for a time 
absorb all our attention. How positive the Russian is, in 
comparison with the Frenchman. He strikes out a character 
or a scene by the use of glaring oppositions which are left 
unbridged. Extreme terms like 'love' and 'hate' are used 
so lavishly that we must race our imaginations to cover the 
ground between them. One feels that the mesh of civiliza- 
tion here is made of a coarse netting and the holes are wide 
apart. Men and women have escaped, compared with the 
imprisonment that they suffer in Paris. They are free to 
throw themselves from side to side, to gesticulate, to hiss, to 
rant, to fall into paroxysms of rage and excitement. They 
are free, with the freedom that violent emotion gives, from 
hesitation, from scruple, from analysis. At first we are 
amazed by the emptiness and the crudity of this world com- 
pared with the other. But when we have arranged our 
perspective a little, it is clear that we are still in the same 
world — that it is the mind which entices us and the adven- 
tures of the mind that concern us. Other worlds, such as 
Scott's or Defoe's, are incredible. Of this we are assured 
when we begin to encounter those curious contradictions of 
which Dostoevsky is so prolific. There is a simplicity in 
violence which we find nowhere in Proust, but violence also 
lays bare regions deep down in the mind where contradic- 
tion prevails. That contrast which marked Stavrogin's 
appearance, so that he was at once ' a paragon of beauty, 
yet at the same time there seemed something repellent 
about him', is but the crude outer sign of the vice and 



virtue we meet, at full tilt, in the same breast. The simplifi- 
cation is only on the surface; when the bold and ruthless 
process, which seems to punch out characters, then to group 
them together and then to set them all in violent motion, so 
energetically, so impatiently, is complete, we are shown 
how, beneath this crude surface, all is chaos and complica- 
tion. We feel at first that we are in a savage society where 
the emotions are much simpler and stronger and more 
impressive than any we encounter in A la Recherche du Temps 

Since there are so few conventions, so few barriers 
(Stavrogin, for instance, passes easily from the depths to 
the heights of society) the complexity would appear to lie 
deeper, and these strange contradictions and anomalies 
which make a man at once divine and bestial would seem 
to be deep in the heart and not superimposed. Hence, the 
strange emotional effect of The Possessed. It appears to be 
written by a fanatic ready to sacrifice skill and artifice in 
order to reveal the soul's difficulties and confusions. The 
novels of Dostoevsky are pervaded with mysticism; he 
speaks not as a writer but as a sage, sitting by the roadside 
in a blanket, with infinite knowledge and infinite patience. 

'Yes,' she answered, 'the mother of God is the great 
mother — the damp earth, and therein lies great joy for 
men. And every earthly woe and every earthly fear is a 
joy for us; and when you water the earth with your tears 
a foot deep, you will rejoice at everything at once, and 
your sorrow will be no more, such is the prophecy.' That 
word sank into my heart at the time. Since then when I 
bow down to the ground at my prayers, I've taken to 
kissing the earth. I kiss it and weep. 

Such is a characteristic passage. But in a novel the voice of 
the teacher, however exalted, is not enough. We have too 
many interests to consider, too many problems to face. Con- 
sider a scene like that extraordinary party to which Varvara 
Petrovna has brought Marya, the lame idiot, whom Stav- 
rogin has married 'from a passion for martyrdom, from a 
craving for remorse, through moral sensuality'. We cannot 



read to the end without feeling as if a thumb were pressing 
on a button in us, when we have no emotion left to answer 
the call. It is a day of surprises, a day of startling revelations, 
a day of strange coincidences. For several of the people there 
(and they come flocking to the room from all quarters) the 
scene has the greater emotional importance. Everything is 
done to suggest the intensity of their emotions. They turn 
pale; they shake with terror; they go into hysterics. They are 
thus brought before us in flashes of extreme brilliance — the 
mad woman with the paper rose in her hat; the young man 
whose words patter out 'like smooth big grains. . . . One 
somehow began to imaging that he must have a tongue of 
special shape, somehow exceptionally long and thin, and ex- 
tremely red, with a very sharp everlastingly active little tip.' 
Yet though they stamp and scream, we hear the sound as 
if it went on next door. Perhaps the truth is that hate, sur- 
prise, anger, horror, are all too strong to be felt continuously. 
This emptiness and noise lead us to wonder whether the 
novel of psychology, which projects its drama in the mind, 
should not, as the truth-tellers showed us, vary and diversify 
its emotions, lest we shall become numb with exhaustion. 
To brush aside civilization and plunge into the depths of the 
soul is not really to enrich. We have, if we turn to Proust, 
more emotion in a scene which is not supposed to be remark- 
able, like that in the restaurant in the fog. There we live 
along a thread of observation which is always going in and 
out of this mind and that mind; which gathers information 
from different social levels, which makes us now feel with a 
prince, now with a restaurant keeper, and brings us into 
touch with different physical experiences such as light after 
darkness, safety after danger, so that the imagination is 
being stimulated on all sides to close slowly, gradually, 
without being goaded by screams or violence, completely 
round the object. Proust is determined to bring before the 
reader every piece of evidence upon which any state of mind 
is founded; so convinced is Dostoevsky of some point of truth 
that he sees before him, he will skip and leap to his conclu- 
sion with a spontaneity that is in itself stimulating. 



By this distortion the psychologist reveals himself. The 
intellect, which analyses and discriminates, is always and 
almost at once overpowered by the rush to feeling; whether 
it is sympathy or anger. Hence, there is something illogical 
and contradictory often in the characters, perhaps because 
they are exposed to so much more than the usual current of 
emotional force. Why does he act like this? we ask again and 
again, and answer rather doubtfully, that so perhaps mad- 
men act. In Proust, on the other hand, the approach is 
equally indirect, but it is through what people think and 
what is thought about them, through the knowledge and 
thoughts of the author himself, that we come to understand 
them very slowly and laboriously, but with the whole of our 

The books, however, with all these dissimilarities, are 
alike in this; both are permeated with unhappiness. And 
this would seem to be inevitable when the mind is not given 
a direct grasp of whatever it may be. Dickens is in many 
ways like Dostoevsky; he is prodigiously fertile and he has 
immense powers of caricature. But Micawber, David Gop- 
perfield, and Mrs. Gamp are placed directly before us, as if 
the author saw them from the same angle, and had nothing 
to do, and no conclusion to draw, except direct amusement 
or interest. The mind of the author is nothing but a glass 
between us, or, at most, serves to put a frame round them. 
All the author's emotional power has gone into them. The 
surplus of thought and feeling which remained after the 
characters had been created in George Eliot, to cloud and 
darken her page, has been used up in the characters of 
Dickens. Nothing of importance remains over. 

But in Proust and Dostoevsky, in Henry James, too, and 
in all those who set themselves to follow feelings and 
thoughts, there is always an overflow of emotion from the 
author as if characters of such subtlety and complexity 
could be created only when the rest of the book is a deep 
reservoir of thought and emotion. Thus, though the author 
himself is not present, characters like Stephen Trofimovitch 
and Charlus can exist only in a world made of the same 



stuff as they are, though left unformulated. The effect of this 
brooding and analysing mind is always to produce an atmo- 
sphere of doubt, of questioning, of pain, perhaps of despair. 
At least, such would seem to be the result of reading A la 
Recherche du Temps perdu and The Possessed. 

The Satirists and Fantastics 

The confused feelings which the psychologists have roused 
in us, the extraordinary intricacy which they have revealed 
to us, the network of fine and scarcely intelligible yet pro- 
foundly interesting emotions in which they have involved us, 
set up a craving for relief, at first so primitive that it is almost 
a physical sensation. The mind feels like a sponge saturated 
full with sympathy and understanding; it needs to dry itself, 
to contract upon something hard. Satire and the sense that 
the satirist gives us that he has the world well within his 
grasp, so that it is at the mercy of his pen, precisely fulfil our 

A further instinct will lead us to pass over such famous 
satirists as Voltaire and Anatole France in favour of someone 
writing in our own tongue, writing English. For without any 
disrespect to the translator we have grown intolerably 
weary in reading Dostoevsky, as if we were reading with the 
wrong spectacles or as if a mist had formed between us and 
the page. We come to feel that every idea is slipping about 
in a suit badly cut and many sizes too large for it. For a 
translation makes us understand more clearly than the 
lectures of any professor the difference between raw words 
and written words; the nature and importance of what we 
call style. Even an inferior writer, using his own tongue 
upon his own ideas, works a change at once which is agree- 
able and remarkable. Under his pen the sentence shrinks 
and wraps itself firmly round the meaning, if it be but a little 
one. The loose, the baggy, shrivels up. And while a writer of 
passable English will do this, a writer like Peacock does 
infinitely more. 



When we open Crotchet Castle and read that first very long 
sentence which begins, 'In one of those beautiful valleys, 
through which the Thames (not yet polluted by the tide, 
the scouring of cities or even the minor defilement of the 
sandy streams of Surrey) ', it would be difficult to describe 
the relief it gives us, except metaphorically. First there is the 
shape which recalls something visually delightful, like a 
flowing wave or the lash of a whip vigorously flung; then as 
phrase joins phrase and one parenthesis after another pours 
in its tributary, we have a sense of the whole swimming 
stream gliding beneath old walls with the shadows of ancient 
buildings and the glow of green lawns reflected in it. And 
what is even more delightful after the immensities and 
obscurities in which we have been living, we are in a world 
so manageable in scale that we can take its measure, tease 
it and ridicule it. It is like stepping out into the garden on a 
perfect September morning when every shadow is sharp and 
every colour bright after a night of storm and thunder. 
Nature has submitted to the direction of man. Man himself 
is dominated by his intelligence. Instead of being many- 
sided, complicated, elusive, people possess one idiosyncrasy 
apiece, which crystallizes them into sharp separate char- 
acters, colliding briskly when they meet. They seem ridicu- 
lously and grotesquely simplified out of all knowledge. Dr. 
Folliott, Mr. Firedamp, Mr. Skionar, Mr. Chainmail, and 
the rest seem after the tremendous thickness and bulk of the 
Guermantes and the Stavrogins nothing but agreeable 
caricatures which a clever old scholar has cut out of a sheet 
of black paper with a pair of scissors. But on looking closer 
we find that though it would be absurd to credit Peacock 
with any desire or perhaps capacity to explore the depths 
of the soul, his reticence is not empty but suggestive. The 
character of Dr. Folliott is drawn in three strokes of the pen. 
What lies between is left out. But each stroke indicates the 
mass behind it, so that the reader can make it out for him- 
self; while it has, because of this apparent simplicity, all the 
sharpness of a caricature. The world so happily constituted 
that there is always trout for breakfast, wine in the cellar, 



and some amusing contretemps, such as the cook setting 
herself alight and being put out by the footman, to make us 
laugh — a world where there is nothing more pressing to do 
than to ' glide over the face of the waters, discussing every- 
thing and settling nothing', is not the world of pure fantasy; 
it is close enough to be a parody of our world and to make 
our own follies and the solemnities of our institutions look a 
little silly. 

The satirist does not, like the psychologist, labour under 
the oppression of omniscience. He has leisure to play with 
his mind freely, ironically. His sympathies are not deeply 
engaged. His sense of humour is not submerged. 

But the prime distinction lies in the changed attitude 
towards reality. In the psychologists the huge burden of 
facts is based upon a firm foundation of dinner, luncheon, 
bed and breakfast. It is with surprise, yet with relief and a 
start of pleasure, that we accept Peacock's version of the 
world, which ignores so much, simplifies so much, gives the 
old globe a spin and shows another face of it on the other 
side. It is unnecessary to be quite so painstaking, it seems. 
And, after all, is not this quite as real, as true as the other? 
And perhaps all this pother about 'reality' is overdone. 
The great gain is perhaps that our relation with things is 
more distant. We reap the benefit of a more poetic point of 
view. A line like the charming 'At Godstow, they gathered 
hazel on the grave of Rosamond ' could be written only by 
a writer who was at a certain distance from his people, so 
that there need be no explanations. For certainly with 
Trollope's people explanations would have been necessary; 
we should have wanted to know what they had been doing, 
gathering hazel, and where they had gone for dinner after- 
wards and how the carriage had met them. 'They', how- 
ever, being Ghainmail, Skionar, and the rest, are at liberty 
to gather hazel on the grave of Rosamond if they like; as 
they are free to sing a song if it so pleases them or to debate 
the march of mind. 

The romantic took the same liberty but for another 
purpose. In the satirist we get not a sense of wildness and the 



soul's adventures, but that the mind is free and therefore 
sees through and dispenses with much that is taken seriously 
by writers of another calibre. 

There are, of course, limitations, reminders, even in the 
midst of our pleasure, of boundaries that we must not pass. 
We cannot imagine in the first place that the writer of such 
exquisite sentences can cover many reams of paper; they 
cost too much to make. Then again a writer who gives us 
so keen a sense of his own personality by the shape of his 
phrase is limited. We are always being brought into touch, 
not with Peacock himself, as with Trollope himself (for 
there is no giving away of his own secrets; he does not con- 
jure up the very shape of himself and the sound of his 
laughter as Trollope does), but all the time our thought is 
taking the colour of his thought, we are insensibly thinking 
in his measure. If we write, we try to write in his manner, 
and this brings us into far greater intimacy with him than 
with writers like Trollope again or Scott, who wrap their 
thought up quite adequately in a duffle gray blanket which 
wears well and suits everything. This may in the end, of 
course, lead to some restriction. Style may carry with it, 
especially in prose, so much personality that it keeps us 
within the range of that personality. Peacock pervades his 

In order that we may consider this more fully let us turn 
from Peacock to Sterne, a much greater writer, yet suffi- 
ciently in the family of Peacock to let us carry on the same 
train of thought uninterruptedly. 

At once we are aware that we are in the presence of a 
much subtler mind, a mind of far greater reach and intensity. 
Peacock's sentences, firmly shaped and beautifully polished 
as they are, cannot stretch as these can. Here our sense of 
elasticity is increased so much that we scarcely know where 
we are. We lose our sense of direction. We go backwards 
instead of forwards. A simple statement starts a digression; 
we circle; we soar; we turn round; and at last back we come 
again to Uncle Toby who has been sitting meanwhile in his 
black plush breeches with his pipe in his hand. Proust, it may 



be said, was as tortuous, but his indirectness was due to his 
immense powers of analysis and to the fact that directly he 
had made a simple statement he perceived and must make 
us perceive all that it implied. Sterne is not an analyst of 
other people's sensations. Those remain simple, eccentric, 
erratic. It is his own mind that fascinates him, its oddities 
and its whims, its fancies and its sensibilities; and it is his 
own mind that colours the book and gives it walls and 
shape. Yet it is obvious that his claim is just when he says 
that however widely he may digress, to my Aunt Dinah and 
the coachman and then 'some millions of miles into the very 
heart of the planetary system', when he is by way of telling 
about Uncle Toby's character, still 'the drawing of my 
Uncle Toby's character went on gently all the time — not 
the great contours of it — that was impossible — but some 
familiar strokes and faint designations of it ... so that you 
are much better acquainted with my Uncle Toby now than 
you were before'. It is true, for we are always alighting as 
we skim and circle to deposit some little grain of observation 
upon the figure of Uncle Toby sitting there with his pipe in 
his hand. There is thus built up intermittently, irregularly, 
an extraordinary portrait of a character — a character shown 
most often in a passive state, sitting still, through the quick 
glancing eyes of an erratic observer, who never lets his char- 
acter speak more than a few words or take more than a few 
steps in his proper person, but is forever circling round and 
playing with the lapels of his coat and peering up into his 
face and teasing him affectionately, whimsically, as if he 
were the attendant sprite in charge of some unconscious, 
mortal. Two such opposites were made to see each other off 
and draw each other out. One relishes the simplicity, the 
modesty, of Uncle Toby all the more for comparing them 
with the witty, indecent, disagreeable, yet highly sympa- 
thetic, character of the author. 

All through Tristram Shandy we are aware of this blend 
and contrast. Laurence Sterne is the most important char- 
acter in the book. It is true that at the critical moment the 
author obliterates himself and gives his characters that little 



extra push which frees them from his tutelage so that they 
are something more than the whims and fancies of a brilliant 
brain. But since character is largely made up of surround- 
ings and circumstances, these people whose surroundings 
are so queer, who are often silent themselves but always so 
whimsically talked about, are a race apart among the people 
of fiction. There is nothing like them elsewhere, for in no 
other book are the characters so closely dependent on the 
author. In no other book are the writer and reader so 
involved together. So, finally, we get a book in which all the 
usual conventions are consumed and yet no ruin or cata- 
strophe comes to pass; the whole subsists complete by it- 
self, like a house which is miraculously habitable without 
the help of walls, staircases, or partitions. We live in the 
humours, contortions, and oddities of the spirit, not in the 
slow unrolling of the long length of life. And the reflection 
comes, as we sun ourselves on one of these high pinnacles, 
can we not escape even further, so that we are not conscious 
of any author at all? Can we not find poetry in some novel 
or other? For Sterne by the beauty of his style has let us 
pass beyond the range of personality into a world which is 
not altogether the world of fiction. It is above. 

The Poets 

Certain phrases have brought about this change in us. They 
have raised us out of the atmosphere of fiction; they have 
made us pause to wonder. For instance: 

I will not argue the matter; Time wastes too fast: every 
letter I trace tells me with what rapidity Life follows my 
pen; the days and hours of it more precious, — my dear 
Jenny — than the rubies about thy neck, are flying over 
our heads like light clouds of a windy day, never to return 
more; everything presses on, — whilst thou art twisting 
that lock; — see! it grows grey; and every time I kiss thy 
hand to bid adieu, and every absence which follows it, are 
preludes to that eternal separation which we are shortly 
to make. 



Phrases like this bring, by the curious rhythm of their 
phrasing, by a touch on the visual sense, an alteration in the 
movement of the mind which makes it pause and widen its 
gaze and slightly change its attention. We are looking out at 
life in general. 

But though Sterne with his extraordinary elasticity could 
use this effect, too, without incongruity, that is only possible 
because his genius is rich enough to let him sacrifice some of 
the qualities that are native to the character of the novel 
without our feeling it. It is obvious that there is no massing 
together of the experiences of many lives and many minds 
as in War and Peace; and, too, that there is something of the 
essayist, something of the soliloquist in the quips and quirks 
of this brilliant mind. He is sometimes sentimental, as if after 
so great a display of singularity he must assert his interest in 
the normal lives and affections of his people. Tears are 
necessary; tears are pumped up. Be that as it may, exquisite 
and individual as his poetry is, there is another poetry which 
is more natural to the novel, because it uses the material 
which the novelist provides. It is the poetry of situation 
rather than of language, the poetry which we perceive when 
Catherine in Wuthering Heights pulls the feathers from the 
pillow; when Natasha in War and Peace looks out of the 
window at the stars. And it is significant that we recall this 
poetry, not as we recall it in verse, by the words, but by the 
scene. The prose remains casual and quiet enough so that 
to quote it is to do little or nothing to explain its effect. Often 
we have to go far back and read a chapter or more before 
we can come by the impression of beauty or intensity that 
possessed us. 

Yet it is not to be denied that two of the novelists who 
are most frequently poetical — Meredith and Hardy — are as 
novelists imperfect. Both The Ordeal of Richard Feverel and 
Far from the Madding Crowd are books of great inequality. In 
both we feel a lack of control, an incoherence such as we 
never feel in War and Peace or in A la Recherche du Temps perdu 
or in Pride and Prejudice. Both Hardy and Meredith are too 
fully charged, it would seem, with a sense of poetry and have 



too limited or too imperfect a sympathy with human beings 
to express it adequately through that channel. Hence, as we 
so often find in Hardy, the impersonal element — Fate, the 
Gods, whatever name we choose to call it — dominates the 
people. They appear wooden, melodramatic, unreal. They 
cannot express the poetry with which the writer himself is 
charged through their own lips, for their psychology is 
inadequate, and thus the expression is left to the writer, who 
assumes a character apart from his people and cannot return 
to them with perfect ease when the time comes. 

Again, in Meredith the writer's sense of the poetry of 
youth, of love, of nature is heard like a song to which the 
characters listen passively without moving a muscle; and 
then, when the song is done, on they move again with a 
jerk. This would seem to prove that a profound poetic sense 
is a dangerous gift for the novelist; for in Hardy and 
Meredith poetry seems to mean something impersonal, 
generalized, hostile to the idiosyncrasy of character, so that 
the two suffer if brought into touch. It may be that the 
perfect novelist expresses a different sort of poetry, or has 
the power of expressing it in a manner which is not harmful 
to the other qualities of the novel. If we recall the passages 
that have seemed to us, in retrospect at any rate, to be 
poetical in fiction we remember them as part of the novel. 
When Natasha in War and Peace looks out of the window at 
the stars, Tolstoy produces a feeling of deep and intense 
poetry without any disruption or that disquieting sense of 
song being sung to people who listen. He does this because his 
poetic sense finds expression in the poetry of the situation 
or because his character express it in their own words, 
which are often of the simplest. We have been living in 
them and knowing them, so that, when Natasha leans on the 
window sill and thinks of her life to come, our feelings of the 
poetry of the moment do not lie in what she says so much as 
in our sense of her who is saying it. 

Wuthering Heights again is steeped in poetry. But here 
there is a difference, for one can hardly say that the profound 
poetry of the scene where Catherine pulls the feathers from 



the pillow has anything to do with our knowledge of her or 
adds to our understanding or our feeling about her future. 
Rather it deepens and controls the wild, stormy atmosphere 
of the whole book. By a master stroke of vision, rarer in 
prose than in poetry, people and scenery and atmosphere 
are all in keeping. And, what is still rarer and more impres- 
sive, through that atmosphere we seem to catch sight of 
larger men and women, of other symbols and significances. 
Yet the characters of Heathcliff and Catherine are perfectly 
natural; they contain all the poetry that Emily Bronte her- 
self feels without effort. We never feel that this is a poetic 
moment, apart from the rest, or that here Emily Bronte is 
speaking to us through her characters. Her emotion has not 
overflowed and risen up independently, in some comment or 
attitude of her own. She is using her characters to express 
her conception, so that her people are active agents in the 
book's life, adding to its impetus and not impeding it. The 
same thing happens, more explicitly but with less concen- 
tration, in Moby Dick. In both books we get a vision of 
presence outside the human beings, of a meaning that they 
stand for, without ceasing to be themselves. But it is notable 
that both Emily Bronte and Herman Melville ignore the 
greater part of those spoils of the modern spirit which 
Proust grasps so tenaciously and transforms so triumphantly. 
Both the earlier writers simplify their characters till only the 
great contour, the clefts and ridges of the face, are visible. 
Both seem to have been content with the novel as their form 
and with prose as their instrument provided that they could 
remove the scene far from towns, simplify the actors and 
allow nature at her wildest to take part in the scene. Thus 
we can say that there is poetry in novels both where the 
poetry is expressed not so much by the particular character 
in a particular situation, like Natasha in the window, but 
rather by the whole mood and temper of the book, like the 
mood and temper of Wuthering Heights or Moby Dick to which 
the characters of Catherine or Heathcliff or Captain Ahab 
give expression. 

In A la Recherche du Temps perdu, however, there is as much 



poetry as in any of these books; but it is poetry of a different 
kind. The analysis of emotion is carried further by Proust 
than by any other novelist; and the poetry comes, not in the 
situation, which is too fretted and voluminous for such an 
effect, but in those frequent passages of elaborate metaphor, 
which spring out of the rock of thought like fountains of 
sweet water and serve as translations from one language into 
another. It is as though there were two faces to every situa- 
tion; one full in the light so that it can be described as 
accurately and examined as minutely as possible; the other 
half in shadow so that it can be described only in a moment 
of faith and vision by the use of metaphor. The longer the 
novelist pores over his analysis, the more he becomes con- 
scious of something that forever escapes. And it is this double 
vision that makes the work of Proust to us in our generation 
so spherical, so comprehensive. Thus, while Emily Bronte 
and Herman Melville turn the novel away from shore out to 
sea, Proust on the other hand rivets his eyes on men. 

And here we may pause, not, certainly, that there are no 
more books to read or no more changes of mood to satisfy, 
but for a reason which springs from the youth and vigour 
of the art itself. We can imagine so many different sorts of 
novels, we are conscious of so many relations and suscepti- 
bilities the novelist had not expressed that we break off in 
the middle with Emily Bronte or with Tolstoy without any 
pretence that the phases of fiction are complete or that our 
desires as a reader have received full satisfaction. On the 
contrary, reading excites them; they well up and make us 
inarticulately aware of a dozen different novels that wait 
just below the horizon unwritten. Hence the futility at 
present of any theory of 'the future of fiction'. The next ten 
years will certainly upset it; the next century will blow it to 
the winds. We have only to remember the comparative 
youth of the novel, that it is, roughly speaking, about the 
age of English poetry in the time of Shakespeare, to realize 
the folly of any summary, or theory of the future of the art. 
Moreover, prose itself is still in its infancy, and capable, no 
doubt, of infinite change and development. 



But our rapid journey from book to book has left us with 
some notes made by the way and these we may sort out, 
not so much to seek a conclusion as to express the brooding, 
the meditative mood which follows the activity of reading. 
So then, in the first place, even though the time at our dis- 
posal has been short, we have travelled, in reading these 
few books, a great distance emotionally. We have plodded 
soberly along the high road talking plain sense and meeting 
many interesting adventures; turning romantic, we have 
lived in castles and been hunted on moors and fought gal- 
lantly and died; then tired of this, we have come into touch 
with humanity again, at first romantically prodigiously, 
enjoying the society of giants and dwarfs, the huge and the 
deformed, and then again tiring of this extravagance, have 
reduced them, by means of Jane Austen's microscope, to 
perfectly proportioned and normal men and women and 
the chaotic world to English parsonage, shrubberies, and 

But a shadow next falls upon that bright prospect, distort- 
ing the lovely harmony of its proportions. The shadow of our 
own minds has fallen upon it and gradually we have drawn 
within, and gone exploring with Henry James endless fila- 
ments of feeling and relationship in which men and women 
are enmeshed, and so we have been led on with Dostoevsky 
to descend miles and miles into the deep and yeasty surges 
of the soul. 

At last Proust brings the light of an immensely civilized 
and saturated intelligence to bear upon this chaos and 
reveals the infinite range and complexity of human sen- 
sibility. But in following him we lose the sense of outline, 
and to recover it seek out the satirists and the fantastics, 
who stand aloof and hold the world at a distance and 
eliminate and reduce so that we have the satisfaction of 
seeing round things after being immersed in them. And the 
satirists and the fantastics, like Peacock and Sterne, because 
of their detachment, write often as poets write, for the sake 
of the beauty of the sentence and not for the sake of its use, 
and so stimulate us to wish for poetry in the novel. Poetry, 



it would seem, requires a different ordering of the scene; 
human beings are needed, but needed in their relation to 
love, or death, or nature rather than to each other. For this 
reason their psychology is simplified, as it is both in Mere- 
dith and Hardy, and instead of feeling the intricacy of life, 
we feel its passion, its tragedy. In Wuthering Heights and in 
Moby Dick this simplification, far from being empty, has 
greatness, and we feel that something beyond, which is not 
human yet does not destroy their humanity or the actions. 
So, briefly, we may sum up our impressions. Brief and frag- 
mentary as they are, we have gained some sense of the 
vastness of fiction and the width of its range. 

As we look back it seems that the novelist can do anything. 
There is room in a novel for story-telling, for comedy, for 
tragedy, for criticism and information and philosophy and 
poetry. Something of its appeal lies in the width of its scope 
and the satisfaction it offers to so many different moods, 
desires, and instincts on the part of the reader. But however 
the novelist may vary his scene and alter the relations of one 
thing to another — and as we look back we see the whole 
world in perpetual transformation — one element remains 
constant in all novels, and that is the human element; they 
are about people, they excite in us the feelings that people 
excite in us in real life. The novel is the only form of art 
which seeks to make us believe that it is giving a full and 
truthful record of the life of a real person. And in order to 
give that full record of life, not the climax and the crisis but 
the growth and development of feelings, which is the novel- 
ist's aim, he copies the order of the day, observes the sequence 
of ordinary things even if such fidelity entails chapters of 
description and hours of research. Thus we glide into the 
novel with far less effort and less break with our surround- 
ings than into any other form of imaginative literature. We 
seem to be continuing to live, only in another house or 
country perhaps. Our most habitual and natural sympathies 
are roused with the first words; we feel them expand and 
contract, in liking or disliking, hope or fear on every page. 
We watch the character and behaviour of Becky Sharp or 



Richard Feverel and instinctively come to an opinion about 
them as about real people, tacitly accepting this or that 
impression, judging each motive, and forming the opinion 
that they are charming but insincere, good or dull, secretive 
but interesting, as we make up our minds about the char- 
acters of the people we meet. 

This engaging lack of artifice and the strength of the 
emotion that he is able to excite are great advantages to the 
novelist, but they are also great dangers. For it is inevitable 
that the reader who is invited to live in novels as in life 
should go on feeling as he feels in life. Novel and life are 
laid side by side. We want happiness for the character we 
like, punishment for those we dislike. We have secret sym- 
pathies for those who seem to resemble us. It is difficult to 
admit that the book may have merit if it outrages our sym- 
pathies, or describes a life which seems unreal to us. Again 
we are acutely aware of the novelist's character and specu- 
late upon his life and adventures. These personal standards 
extend in every direction, for every sort of prejudice, every 
sort of vanity, can be snubbed or soothed by the novelist. 
Indeed the enormous growth of the psychological novel in 
our time has been prompted largely by the mistaken belief, 
which the reader has imposed upon the novelist, that truth 
is always good; even when it is the truth of the psycho- 
analyst and not the truth of imagination. 

Such vanities and emotions on the part of the reader are 
perpetually forcing the novelist to gratify them. And the 
result, though it may give the novel a short life of extreme 
vigour, is, as we know even while we are enjoying the tears 
and laughs and excitement of that life, fatal to its endur- 
ance. For the accuracy of representation, the looseness and 
simplicity of its method, its denial of artifice and convention, 
its immense power to imitate the surface reality — all the 
qualities that make a novel the most popular form of litera- 
ture — also make it, even as we read it, turn stale and perish 
on our hands. Already some of the 'great novels' of the past, 
like Robert Elsmere or Uncle Tarn's Cabin, are perished except 
in patches because they were originally bolstered up with so 



much that had virtue and vividness only for those who lived 
at the moment that the books were written. Directly manners 
change, or the contemporary idiom alters, page after page, 
chapter after chapter, become obsolete and lifeless. 

But the novelist is aware of this too and, while he uses the 
power of exciting human sympathy which belongs to him, 
he also attempts to control it. Indeed the first sign that we 
are reading a writer of merit is that we feel this control at 
work on us. The barrier between us and the book is raised 
higher. We do not slip so instinctively and so easily into a 
world that we know already. We feel that we are being 
compelled to accept an order and to arrange the elements 
of the novel — man, nature, God — in certain relations at the 
novelist's bidding. In looking back at the few novels that we 
have glanced at here we can see how astonishingly we lend 
ourselves to first one vision and then to another which is its 
opposite. We obliterate a whole universe at the command of 
Defoe; we see every blade of grass and snail shell at the 
command of Proust. From the first page we feel our minds 
trained upon a point which becomes more and more percep- 
tible as the book proceeds and the writer brings his concep- 
tion out of darkness. At last the whole is exposed to view. 
And then, when the book is finished, we seem to see (it is 
strange how visual the impression is) something girding it 
about like the firm road of Defoe's storytelling; or we see it 
shaped and symmetrical with dome and column complete, 
like Pride and Prejudice and Emma. A power which is not the 
power of accuracy or of humour or of pathos is also used by 
the great novelists to shape their work. As the pages are 
turned, something is built up which is not the story itself. 
And this power, if it accentuates and concentrates and gives 
the fluidity of the novel endurance and strength, so that no 
novel can survive even a few years without it, is also a 
danger. For the most characteristic qualities of the novel — 
that it registers the slow growth and development of feeling, 
that it follows many lives and traces their unions and for- 
tunes over a long stretch of time — are the very qualities that 
are most incompatible with design and order. It is the gift of 



style, arrangement, construction, to put us at a distance 
from the special life and to obliterate its features; while it is 
the gift of the novel to bring us into close touch with life. 
The two powers fight if they are brought into combination. 
The most complete novelist must be the novelist who can 
balance the two powers so that the one enhances the other. 

This would seem to prove that the novel is by its nature 
doomed to compromise, wedded to mediocrity. Its province, 
one may conclude, is to deal with the commoner but weaker 
emotions; to express the bulk and not the essence of life. 
But any such verdict must be based upon the supposition 
that 'the novel' has a certain character which is now fixed 
and cannot be altered, that 'life' has a certain limit which 
can be defined. And it is precisely this conclusion that the 
novels we have been reading tend to upset. 

The process of discovery goes on perpetually. Always 
more of life is being reclaimed and recognized. Therefore, 
to fix the character of the novel, which is the youngest and 
most vigorous of the arts, at this moment would be like 
fixing the character of poetry in the eighteenth century and 
saying that because Gray's Elegy was 'poetry' Don Juan was 
impossible. An art practised by hosts of people, sheltering 
diverse minds, is also bound to be simmering, volatile, un- 
stable. And for some reason not here to be examined, fiction 
is the most hospitable of hosts; fiction to-day draws to itself 
writers who would even yesterday have been poets, drama- 
tists, pamphleteers, historians. Thus 'the novel', as we still 
call it with such parsimony of language, is clearly splitting 
apart into books which have nothing in common but this 
one inadequate title. Already the novelists are so far apart 
that they scarcely communicate, and to one novelist the 
work of another is quite genuinely unintelligible or quite 
genuinely negligible. 

The most significant proof of this fertility, however, is 
provided by our sense of feeling something that has not yet 
been said; of some desire still unsatisfied. A very general, a 
very elementary, view of this desire would seem to show that 
it points in two directions. Life — it is a commonplace — is 



growing more complex. Our self-consciousness is becoming 
far more alert and better trained. We are aware of relations 
and subtleties which have not yet been explored. Of this 
school Proust is the pioneer, and undoubtedly there are still 
to be born writers who will carry the analysis of Henry 
James still further, who will reveal and relate finer threads 
of feeling, stranger and more obscure imaginations. 

But also we desire synthesis. The novel, it is agreed, can 
follow life; it can amass details. But can it also select? Can it 
symbolize? Can it give us an epitome as well as an inventory? 
It was some such function as this that poetry discharged in 
the past. But, whether for the moment or for some longer 
time, poetry with her rhythms, her poetic diction, her strong 
flavour of tradition, is too far from us to-day to do for us 
what she did for our parents. Prose perhaps is the instrument 
best fitted to the complexity and difficulty of modern life. 
And prose — we have to repeat it — is still so youthful that we 
scarcely know what powers it may not hold concealed 
within it. Thus it is possible that the novel in time to come 
may differ as widely from the novel of Tolstoy and Jane 
Austen as the poetry of Browning and Byron differs from 
the poetry of Lydgate and Spenser. In time to come — but 
time to come lies far beyond our province. 




The New Biography 1 

' r I 1 HE aim of biography', said Sir Sydney Lee, who had 
A perhaps read and written more lives than any man of 
his time, 'is the truthful transmission of personality', and no 
single sentence could more neatly split up into two parts the 
whole problem of biography as it presents itself to us to-day. 
On the one hand there is truth; on the other there is per- 
sonality. And if we think of truth as something of granite- 
like solidity and of personality as something of rainbow-like 
intangibility and reflect that the aim of biography is to weld 
these two into one seamless whole, we shall admit that the 
problem is a stiff one and that we need not wonder if bio- 
graphers have for the most part failed to solve it. 

For the truth of which Sir Sidney speaks, the truth which 
biography demands, is truth in its hardest, most obdurate 
form; it is truth as truth is to be found in the British Museum; 
it is truth out of which all vapour of falsehood has been 
pressed by the weight of research. Only when truth had 
been thus established did Sir Sidney Lee use it in the build- 
ing of his monument; and no one can be so foolish as to deny 
that the piles be raised of such hard facts, whether one is 
called Shakespeare or King Edward the Seventh, are worthy 
of all our respect. For there is a virtue in truth; it has an 
almost mystic power. Like radium, it seems able to give off 
forever and ever grains of energy, atoms of light. It stimulates 
the mind, which is endowed with a curious susceptibility in 
this direction as no fiction, however artful or highly coloured, 
can stimulate it. Truth being thus efficacious and supreme, 
we can only explain the fact that Sir Sidney's life of Shake- 
speare is dull, and that his life of Edward the Seventh 
is unreadable, by supposing that though both are stuffed 
with truth, he failed to choose those truths which transmit 
1 New York Herald Tribune, October 30, 1927. 


personality. For in order that the light of personality may 
shine through, facts must be manipulated; some must be 
brightened; others shaded; yet, in the process, they must 
never lose their integrity. And it is obvious that it is easier to 
obey these precepts by considering that the true life of your 
subject shows itself in action which is evident rather than in 
that inner life of thought and emotion which meanders 
darkly and obscurely through the hidden channels of the 
soul. Hence, in the old days, the biographer chose the easier 
path. A life, even when it was lived by a divine, was a series 
of exploits. The biographer, whether he was Izaak Walton or 
Mrs. Hutchinson or that unknown writer who is often so 
surprisingly eloquent on tombstones and memorial tablets, 
told a tale of battle and victory. With their stately phrasing 
and their deliberate artistic purpose, such records transmit 
personality with a formal sincerity which is perfectly satis- 
factory of its kind. And so, perhaps, biography might have 
pursued its way, draping the robes decorously over the 
recumbent figures of the dead, had there not arisen toward 
the end of the eighteenth century one of those curious men 
of genius who seem able to break up the stiffness into which 
the company has fallen by speaking in his natural voice. So 
Boswell spoke. So we hear booming out from Boswell's page 
the voice of Samuel Johnson. 'No, sir; stark insensibility', 
we hear him say. Once we have heard those words we are 
aware that there is an incalculable presence among us which 
will go on ringing and reverberating in widening circles 
however times may change and ourselves. All the draperies 
and decencies of biography fall to the ground. We can no 
longer maintain that life consists in actions only or in works. 
It consists in personality. Something has been liberated 
beside which all else seems cold and colourless. We are 
freed from a servitude which is now seen to be intolerable. 
No longer need we pass solemnly and stiffly from camp to 
council chamber. We may sit, even with the great and good, 
over the table and talk. 

Through the influence of Boswell, presumably, biography 
all through the nineteenth century concerned itself as much 



with the lives of the sedentary as with the lives of the active. 
It sought painstakingly and devotedly to express not only 
the outer life of work and activity but the inner life of emo- 
tion and thought. The uneventful lives of poets and painters 
were written out as lengthily as the lives of soldiers and 
statesmen. But the Victorian biography was a parti-coloured, 
hybrid, monstrous birth. For though truth of fact was ob- 
served as scrupulously as Boswell observed it, the personality 
which Boswell's genius set free was hampered and distorted. 
The convention which Boswell had destroyed settled again, 
only in a different form, upon biographers who lacked his 
art. Where the Mrs. Hutchinsons and the Izaak Waltons 
had wished to prove that their heroes were prodigies of 
courage and learning the Victorian biographer was domi- 
nated by the idea of goodness. Noble, upright, chaste, 
severe; it is thus that the Victorian worthies are presented to 
us. The figure is almost always above life size in top-hat and 
frock-coat, and the manner of presentation becomes increas- 
ingly clumsy and laborious. For lives which no longer express 
themselves in action take shape in innumerable words. The 
conscientious biographer may not tell a fine tale with a flour- 
ish, but must toil through endless labyrinths and embarrass 
himself with countless documents. In the end he produces 
an amorphous mass, a life of Tennyson, or of Gladstone, 
in which we go seeking disconsolately for voice or laughter, 
for curse or anger, for any trace that this fossil was once 
a living man. Often, indeed, we bring back some invaluable 
trophy, for Victorian biographies are laden with truth; but 
always we rummage among them with a sense of the prodig- 
ious waste, of the artistic wrongheadedness of such a method. 
With the twentieth century, however, a change came over 
biography, as it came over fiction and poetry. The first and 
most visible sign of it was in the difference in size. In the 
first twenty years of the new century biographies must have 
lost half their weight. Mr. Strachey compressed four stout 
Victorians into one slim volume; M. Maurois boiled the 
usual two volumes of a Shelley life into one little book 
the size of a novel. But the diminution of size was only the 



outward token of an inward change. The point of view had 
completely altered. If we open one of the new school of 
biographies its bareness, its emptiness makes us at once 
aware that the author's relation to his subject is different. 
He is no longer the serious and sympathetic companion, 
toiling even slavishly in the footsteps of his hero. Whether 
friend or enemy, admiring or critical, he is an equal. In any 
case, he preserves his freedom and his right to independent 
judgment. Moreover, he does not think himself constrained 
to follow every step of the way. Raised upon a little eminence 
which his independence has made for him, he sees his subject 
spread about him. He chooses; he synthesizes; in short, he 
has ceased to be the chronicler; he has become an artist. 

Few books illustrate the new attitude to biography better 
than Some People, by Harold Nicolson. In his biographies of 
Tennyson and of Byron Mr. Nicolson followed the path 
which had been already trodden by Mr. Strachey and 
others. Here he has taken a step on his own initiative. For 
here he has devised a method of writing about people and 
about himself as though they were at once real and imagin- 
ary. He has succeeded remarkably, if not entirely, in making 
the best of both worlds. Some People is not fiction because it 
has the substance, the reality of truth. It is not biography 
because it has the freedom, the artistry of fiction. And if we 
try to discover how he has won the liberty which enables him 
to present us with these extremely amusing pages we must 
in the first place credit him with having had the courage to 
rid himself of a mountain of illusion. An English diplomat is 
offered all the bribes which usually induce people to swallow 
humbug in large doses with composure. If Mr. Nicolson 
wrote about Lord Curzon it should have been solemnly. If 
he mentioned the Foreign Office it should have been 
respectfully. His tone toward the world of Bognors and 
Whitehall should have been friendly but devout. But thanks 
to a number of influences and people, among whom one 
might mention Max Beerbohm and Voltaire, the attitude 
of the bribed and docile official has been blown to atoms. 
Mr. Nicolson laughs. He laughs at Lord Curzon; he laughs 



at the Foreign Office; he laughs at himself. And since his 
laughter is the laughter of the intelligence it has the effect of 
making us take the people he laughs at seriously. The figure 
of Lord Curzon concealed behind the figure of a drunken 
valet is touched off with merriment and irreverence; yet of 
all the studies of Lord Curzon which have been written 
since his death none makes us think more kindly of that 
preposterous but, it appears, extremely human man. 

So it would seem as if one of the great advantages of the 
new school to which Mr. Nicolson belongs is the lack of 
pose, humbug, solemnity. They approach their bigwigs 
fearlessly. They have no fixed scheme of the universe, no 
standard of courage or morality to which they insist that he 
shall conform. The man himself is the supreme object of 
their curiosity. Further, and it is this chiefly which has so 
reduced the bulk of biography, they maintain that the man 
himself, the pith and essence of his character, shows itself to 
the observant eye in the tone of a voice, the turn of a head, 
some little phrase or anecdote picked up in passing. Thus 
in two subtle phrases, in one passage of brilliant description, 
whole chapters of the Victorian volume are synthesized and 
summed up. Some People is full of examples of this new phase 
of the biographer's art. Mr. Nicolson wants to describe a 
governess and he tells us that she had a drop at the end of 
her nose and made him salute the quarterdeck. He wants to 
describe Lord Curzon, and he makes him lose his trousers 
and recite 'Tears, Idle Tears'. He does not cumber himself 
with a single fact about them. He waits till they have said 
or done something characteristic, and then he pounces on 
it with glee. But, though he waits with an intention of 
pouncing which might well make his victims uneasy if they 
guessed it, he lays suspicion by appearing himself in his own 
proper person in no flattering light. He has a scrubby 
dinner-jacket, he tells us; a pink bumptious face, curly hair, 
and a curly nose. He is as much the subject of his own irony 
and observation as they are. He lies in wait for his own 
absurdities as artfully as for theirs. Indeed, by the end of the 
book we realize that the figure which has been most com- 



pletely and most subtly displayed is that of the author. Each 
of the supposed subjects holds up in his or her small bright 
diminishing mirror a different reflection of Harold Nicolson. 
And though the figure thus revealed is not noble or impres- 
sive or shown in a very heroic attitude, it is for these very 
reasons extremely like a real human being. It is thus, he would 
seem to say, in the mirrors of our friends, that we chiefly live. 

To have contrived this effect is a triumph not of skill only, 
but of those positive qualities which we are likely to treat as 
if they were negative — freedom from pose, from sentimen- 
tality, from illusion. And the victory is definite enough to 
leave us asking what territory it has won for the art of 
biography. Mr. Nicolson has proved that one can use many 
of the devices of fiction in dealing with real life. He has 
shown that a little fiction mixed with fact can be made to 
transmit personality very effectively. But some objections or 
qualifications suggest themselves. Undoubtedly the figures 
in Some People are all rather below life size. The irony with 
which they are treated, though it has its tenderness, stunts 
their growth. It dreads nothing more than that one of these 
little beings should grow up and becomes serious or perhaps 
tragic. And, again, they never occupy the stage for more 
than a few brief moments. They do not want to be looked at 
very closely. They have not a great deal to show us. Mr. 
Nicolson makes us feel, in short, that he is playing with very 
dangerous elements. An incautious movement and the book 
will be blown sky high. He is trying to mix the truth of real 
life and the truth of fiction. He can only do it by using no 
more than a pinch of either. For though both truths are 
genuine, they are antagonistic; let them meet and they 
destroy each other. Even here, where the imagination is not 
deeply engaged, when we find people whom we know to be 
real like Lord Oxford or Lady Colefax, mingling with Miss 
Plimsoll and Marstock, whose reality we doubt, the one 
casts suspicion upon the other. Let it be fact, one feels, or 
let it be fiction; the imagination will not serve under two 
masters simultaneously. 

And here we again approach the difficulty which, for all 



his ingenuity, the biographer still has to face. Truth of fact 
and truth of fiction are incompatible; yet he is now more 
than ever urged to combine them. For it would seem that 
the life which is increasingly real to us is the fictitious life; it 
dwells in the personality rather than in the act. Each of us 
is more Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, than he is John Smith 
of the Corn Exchange. Thus, the biographer's imagination 
is always being stimulated to use the novelist's art of arrange- 
ment, suggestion, dramatic effect to expound the private 
life. Yet if he carries the use of fiction too far, so that he dis- 
regards the truth, or can only introduce it with incongruity, 
he loses both worlds; he has neither the freedom of fiction 
nor the substance of fact. Boswell's astonishing power over 
us is based largely upon his obstinate veracity, so that we 
have implicit belief in what he tells us. When Johnson says 
'No, sir; stark insensibility', the voice has a ring in it because 
we have been told, soberly and prosaically, a few pages 
earlier, that Johnson 'was entered a Commoner of Pem- 
broke, on the 31st of October, 1728, being then in his nine- 
teenth year'. We are in the world of brick and pavement; of 
birth, marriage, and death; of Acts of Parliament; of Pitt 
and Burke and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Whether this is a more 
real world than the world of Bohemia and Hamlet and 
Macbeth we doubt; but the mixture of the two is abhorrent. 
Be that as it may we can assure ourselves by a very simple 
experiment that the days of Victorian biography are over. 
Consider one's own life; pass under review a few years that 
one has actually lived. Conceive how Lord Morley would 
have expounded them; how Sir Sidney Lee would have 
documented them; how strangely all that has been most real 
in them would have slipped through their fingers. Nor can 
we name the biographer whose art is subtle and bold enough 
to present that queer amalgamation of dream and reality, 
that perpetual marriage of granite and rainbow. His method 
still remains to be discovered. But Mr. Nicolson with his 
mixture of biography and autobiography, of fact and fiction, 
of Lord Curzon's trousers and Miss Plimsoll's nose, waves 
his hand airily in a possible direction. 


A Talk about Memoirs' 

JUDITH: I wonder — shall I give my bird a real beak or 
an orange one? Whatever they may say, silks have been 
ruined by the war. But what are you looking behind the 
curtain for? Ann: There is no gentleman present? Judith: 
None, unless you count the oil portrait of Uncle John. Ann: 
Oh, then, we can talk about the Greeks! There is not a single 
memoir in the whole of Greek literature. There! You can't 
contradict me; and so we go on to wonder how the ladies of 
the race spent the morning when it was wet and the hours 
between tea and dinner when it was dark. Judith: The morn- 
ings never are wet in Athens. Then they don't drink tea. 
They drink a red sweet stuff out of glasses, and eat lumps of 
Turkish delight with it. Ann: Ah, that explains! A dry, hot 
climate, no twilight, wine, and blue sky. In England the 
atmosphere is naturally aqueous, and as if there weren't 
enough outside, we drench ourselves with tea and coffee at 
least four times a day. It's atmosphere that makes English 
literature unlike any other — clouds, sunsets, fogs, exhala- 
tions, miasmas. And I believe that the element of water is 
supplied chiefly by the memoir writers. Look what great 
swollen books they are! (She lifts five volumes in her hands, 
one after another.) Dropsical. Still, there are times — I sup- 
pose it's the lack of wine in my blood — when the mere 
thought of a classic is repulsive. Judith: I agree with you. 
The classics — oh dear, what was I going to say? — something 
very wise, I know. But I can't embroider a parrot and talk 
about Milton in the same breath. Ann: Whereas you could 
embroider a parrot and talk about Lady Georgiana Peel? 
Judith: Precisely. Do tell me about Lady Georgiana Peel 
and the rest. Those are the books I love. Ann: I do more than 
love them; I reverence them as the parents and begetters of 
1 New Statesman, March 6, 1920. 


our race. And if I knew Mr. Lytton Strachey, I'd tell him 
what I think of him for behaving disrespectfully of the great 
English art of biography. My dear Judith, I had a vision 
last night of a widow with a taper setting fire to a basketful 
of memoirs — half a million words — two volumes — stout — 
blue — with a crest — genealogical trees — family portraits — 
all complete. 'Art be damned!' I cried, and woke in a 
frenzy. Judith: Well, I fancy she heard you. But let's begin 
on Lady Georgiana Peel. Ann: Lady Georgiana Peel l was 
born in the year 1836, and was the daughter of Lord John 
Russell. The Russells are said to be descended from Thor, 
the God of Thunder; their more direct ancestor being one 
Henri de Rozel, who, in the eleventh century — Judith: 
We'll take their word for it. Ann: Very well. But don't forget 
it. The Russells are cold in temperament, contradictious by 
nature. Ahem! Lord and Lady John were resting under an 
oak tree in Richmond Park when Lord John remarked how 
pleasant it would be to live in that white house behind the 
palings for the rest of their lives. No sooner said than the 
owner falls ill and dies. The Queen, with that unfailing 
insight, etc., sends for Lord John, etc., and offers him the 
lodge for life, etc., etc., etc. I mean they lived happily ever 
after, though as time went by, a factory chimney somewhat 
spoilt the view. Judith: And Lady Georgiana? Ann: Well, 
there's not much about Lady Georgiana. She saw the 
Queen having her hair brushed, and she went to stay at 
Woburn. And what d'you think they did there? They threw 
mutton chops out of the window ' for whoever cared to pick 
them up'. And each guest had a piece of paper by his plate 
'in which to wrap up an eatable for the people waiting 
outside'. Judith: Mutton chops! people waiting outside! 
Ann: Ah, now the charm begins to work. A snowy Christmas 
— imagine a fair-haired little girl at the window — early in 
the forties the scene is— frost on the ground — a mutton chop 
descending. Don't you see all the arms going up and the poor 
wretches trampling the flower-beds in their struggles? But, 

1 Recollections of Lady Georgiana Peel. Compiled by her daughter Ethel 



'I think', she says, 'the custom died out.' And then she 
married, and her husband's riding was the pride of the 
county; and when he won a race he gave something to the 
village church. But I don't know that there's much more to 
be said. Judith: Please go on. The charm is working; I'm not 
asleep; I'm in the drawing-room at Woburn in the forties. 
Ann: Lady Georgiana being, as I told you, descended from 
the God of Thunder, is not one to take liberties with life. 
The scene is a little empty. There's Charles Dickens wearing 
a pink shirt front embroidered with white; the Russell 
mausoleum in the background; sailors with icicles hanging 
from their whiskers; the Grosvenor boys shooting snipe in 
Belgrave Square; Lord John handing the Queen down to 
dinner — and so forth. Let's consult Mr. Bridges. 1 He may 
help us to fill it in. 'Our mothers were modelled as closely as 
might be on the example of the Great Queen. ... If they 
were not always either beautiful or wise they gained love 
and respect everywhere without being either. . . . But, what- 
ever happens, women will still be women and men men.' 
Shall I go on skipping? Judith: I seem to gather that the wall- 
papers were dark and the sideboards substantial. Ann: Yes, 
but we've too much furniture already. Life is what we want. 
(She turns over the pages of several volumes without saying 
anything.) Judith: Oh, Ann; it's fearfully dull at Woburn in 
the forties. Moreover, my parrot is turning into a sacred 
fowl. I shall be presenting him to the village church next. 
Is no one coming to call? Ann: Wait a moment. I fancy I see 
Miss Dempster 2 approaching. Judith: Quick; let me look 
at her picture. A devout, confidential lady — Bedchamber 
woman to Queen Victoria, I should guess. I can fancy her 
murmuring: 'Poor, poor Princess'; or, 'Dearest Lady Char- 
lotte has had a sad loss in the death of her favourite gillie', 
as she extracts from the Royal Head a sleek tortoiseshell pin 
and lays it reverently in the golden tray. By the way, can you 
imagine Queen Victoria's hair? I can't. Ann: Lady Geor- 
giana says it was 'long and fair'. Be that as it may, Miss 

1 Victorian Recollections, by John A. Bridges. 
2 The Manners of My Time, by C. L. H. Dempster. 



Dempster had nothing to do with her hair-pins— save that, 
I think it likely her daydreams took that direction. She was 
a penniless lass with a long pedigree; Scotch, of course, 
moving in the best society — ' one of the Shropshire Corbets 
who (through the Leycesters) is a cousin of Dean Stanley' — 
that's her way of describing people; and for my part I find 
it very descriptive. But wait — here's a scene that promises 
well. Imagine the terrace of the Blythswoods' villa at Cannes. 
An eclipse of the moon is taking place; the Emperor Dom 
Pedro of Portugal has his eye fixed to the telescope; it is 
chilly, and a copper-coloured haze suffuses the sky. Mean- 
while, Miss Dempster and the Prince of Hohenzollern walk 
up and down talking. What d'ye think they talk about? . . . 
'we agreed that it had never occurred to us before that 
somewhere our Earth's shadow must be ever falling. . . . 
Speaking of the dark and shadowed days of human life I 
quoted Mrs. Browning's lines: "Think, the passing of a trail, 
To the nature most undone, Like the shadow on the dial, 
Proves the presence of the sun.'''''' You don't want to hear 
about the death of the Duke of Albany and his appearance 
in his coffin or the Emperor of Germany and his cancer? 
Judith: For Heaven's sake, no! Ann: Well, then, we must 
shut up Miss Dempster. But isn't it queer how Lady Geor- 
giana and the rest have made us feel like naughty, dirty, 
mischievous children? I don't altogether enjoy the feeling, 
and yet there is something august in their unyielding author- 
ity. They have fronts of brass; not a doubt or a desire dis- 
turbs them outwardly; and so they proceed over a world 
which for us is alternately a desert or a flowering wilderness 
stuck about with burning bushes and mocking macaws, as if 
it were Piccadilly or the Cromwell Road at three o'clock in 
the afternoon. I detect passions and pieties and convictions 
all dumb and deep sunk which serve them for a kind of 
spiritual petrol. What, my dear Judith, have we got in its 
place? Judith: If, like me, you'd been sitting in the drawing- 
room at Woburn for the past fifty years, you would be feeling 
a little stiff. Did they never amuse themselves? Was death 
their only amusement, and rank their sole romance? Ann: 



There were horses. I see your eyes turned with longing to 
Dorothea Conyers l and John Porter. 2 Now you can get up 
and come to the stables. Now, I assure you, things are going 
to hum a little. In both these books we get what I own was 
somewhat disguised in the others — a passion for life. I con- 
fess that I like John Porter's view of life better than Dorothea 
Conyers', though, from the lips of a novelist, there is charm 
in her reflection: 'Unfortunately, I shall never be a popular 
short-story writer: I do something just wrong'; one feels 
inclined to tell her to shorten her stirrups or have her fet- 
locks fired and see whether that wouldn't do the trick. But 
this cherry-cheeked elderly gentleman, this quintessence of 
all good coachmen and trusty servants, this lean old trainer 
with his shrewd little eyes, and the horseshoe tiepin and the 
look of integrity and service honestly performed, of devo- 
tion given and returned — I can't help feeling that he is the 
pick of the bunch. I like his assumption that the whole 
world exists for racing, or, as he is careful to put it, for ' the 
amelioration of the thoroughbred'. I like the warmth with 
which he praises his horses for holding their own on the course 
and begetting fine children at the stud. ' I thought the world 
of him,' he says of Isonomy, 'and his achievements as a sire 
strengthened my regard and admiration.' 'That the horse I 
almost worshipped was afflicted with wind infirmity', he 
says in another place, nearly killed him; and when Ormonde, 
for he it was, proved incurable and went to Australia, John 
Porter plucked a few hairs from tail and mane to keep, 
doubtless in some inner pocket, ' as a memento of a great 
and noble creature'. What character he detects in them, 
and how humanely he respects it! Madam Eglantyne must 
be humoured in her fancy to be delivered of her children 
under a tree in the park. Sir Joseph Hawley — not a race- 
horse, but the owner of race-horses — what a character — 
what a fine fellow he was!— 'a really great man ... a noble 
friend to me and my family . . . stern, straight and fearless'; 

1 Sporting Reminiscences, by Dorothea Conyers. 

2 John Porter of Kingsclere. An anthology written in collaboration with 
Edward Monkhouse. 

1 60 


so John Porter writes of him, and when the Baronet for the 
last time left his cigar to waste on the mantelpiece, John 
Porter pocketed the ashes and has them now 'put carefully 
away' in memory of his master. Then I like to read how 
Ormonde was born at half-past six on a Sunday evening, as 
the stable boys were going to Church, with a mane three 
inches long, and how always at the critical moment Fred 
Archer made a little movement in the saddle and ' lengthen- 
ing his stride, Ormonde shot ahead, to win in a canter'; and 
how he was not only a giant among giants, but, like all 
magnanimous heroes, had the disposition of a lamb, and 
would eat cakes and carnations out of a Queen's hand. How 
splendid we should think it if it were written in Greek! 
Indeed, how Greek it all is! Judith: Are you sure there is 
nothing about the village church? Ann: Well, yes. John 
Porter did in token of gratitude add ' some suitable embel- 
lishments to the village church'; but, then (as there are no 
gentlemen present) so did the Greeks, and we think no 
worse of them for doing so. Judith: Perhaps. Anyhow, John 
Porter is the pick of the bunch. He enjoyed life; that's 
what the Victorians— but, go on — tell me how Orme was 


Sir Walter Raleigh 1 

TO most of us, says Miss Hadow in her introduction to a 
book of selections from the prose of Sir Walter Raleigh, 
'the Elizabethan Age stands for one of two things: it is the 
age of jewelled magnificence, of pomp and profusion and 
colour, of stately ceremonial and Court pageant, of poetry 
and drama; or it is the age of enterprise and exploration'. 
But though we have every reason for being grateful to Miss 
Hadow for her part in the production of this astonishing 
little book, we cannot go with her in this initial distinction. 
If Shakespeare, as literature is the only thing that survives 
in its completeness, may be held to represent the Eliza- 
bethan age, are not enterprise and exploration a part of 
Shakespeare? If there are some who read him without any 
thought save for the poetry, to most of us, we believe, the 
world of Shakespeare is the world of Hakluyt and of Raleigh; 
on that map Guiana and the River of the Plate are not 
very far distant or easily distinguishable from the Forest of 
Arden and Elsinore. The navigator and the explorer made 
their voyage by ship instead of by the mind, but over 
Hakluyt's pages broods the very same lustre of the imagina- 
tion. Those vast rivers and fertile valleys, those forests of 
odorous trees and mines of gold and ruby, fill up the 
background of the plays as, in our fancy, the blue of 
the distant plains of America seems to lie behind the 
golden cross of St. Paul's and the bristling chimneys of 
Elizabethan London. 

No man was a truer representative of this Elizabethan 
world than Sir Walter Raleigh. From the intrigues and 
splendours of the Court he sailed to an unknown land in- 
habited by savages; from discourse with Marlowe and 
Spenser he went to sea-battle with the Spaniard. Merely to 
1 Times Literary Supplement, March 15, 19 17. 


read over the list of his pursuits gives one a sense of the space 
and opportunity of the Elizabethan age; courtier and ad- 
miral, soldier and explorer, member of Parliament and poet, 
musician and historian — he was all those things, and still 
kept such a curiosity alive in him that he must practise 
chemistry in his cabin when he had leisure at sea, or beg an 
old henhouse from the Governor of the Tower in which to 
pursue his search for 'the Great Elixir'. It is little wonder 
that Rumour should still be telling her stories about his 
cloak, his pipe with the silver bowl, his potatoes, his mahog- 
any, his orange trees, after all these years; for though 
Rumour may lie, there is always good judgment in her 

When we come to read what remains of his writing — and 
in this little book the indispensable part of it is preserved — 
we get what Rumour cannot give us: the likeness of an 
extremely vigorous and individual mind, scarcely domi- 
nated by the 'vast and devouring space' of the centuries. It 
is well, perhaps, to begin by reading the last fight of the 
Revenge, the letters about Cadiz and Guiana, and that to 
his wife written in expectation of death, before reading the 
extracts from the Historie of the World, and to end with the 
preface to that work, as one leaves a church with the sound 
of the organ in one's ears. His adventures by sea and land, 
his quest of Eldorado and the great gold mine of his dreams, 
his sentence of death and long imprisonment — glimpses of 
that 'day of a tempestuous life' are to be found in these 
pages. They give us some idea of its storm and its sunshine. 
Naturally the style of them is very different from that of the 
preface. They are full of hurry and turmoil, or impetuosity 
and self-assertiveness. He is always eager to justify his own 
daring, and to proclaim the supremacy of the English 
among other peoples. Even 'our common English soldier, 
leavied in haste, from following the Cart, or sitting on the 
shop-stall', surpasses in valour the best of Roman soldiers. 
Of the landing in Fayal in the year 1597 he writes, 'For I 
thought it to belong unto the honor of our Prince & Nation, 
that a few Ilanders should not think any advantage great 



enough, against a fleet set forth by Q,. Elizabeth'; although 
he had to admit that ' I had more regard of reputation, in 
that businesse, than of safetie'. 

But if we had to justify our love of these old voyagers we 
should not lay stress upon the boastful and magnificent 
strain in them; we should point, rather, to the strain of 
poetry — the meditative mood fostered by long days at sea, 
sleep and dreams under strange stars, and lonely effort in 
the face of death. We would recall the words of Sir Humfrey 
Gilbert, when the storm broke upon his ship, 'sitting abaft 
with a book in his hand . . . and crying (so oft as we did 
approach within hearing) "We are as near to Heaven by 
sea as by land"'. And so Sir Walter Raleigh, whose char- 
acter was subject to much criticism during his lifetime, who 
had been alternately exalted and debased by fortune, who 
had lived with the passion of a great lover, turns finally to 
thoughts of the littleness of all human things and to a mag- 
nanimous contemplation of the lot of mankind. His thoughts 
seem inspired by a knowledge of life both at its best and its 
worst; in the solitude of the Tower his memory is haunted 
by the sound of the sea. From the sea he takes his most fre- 
quent and splendid imagery. It comes naturally to him to 
speak of the 'Navigation of this life', of 'the Port of death, 
to which all winds drive us'. Our false friends, he says, 
' forsake us in the first tempest of misfortune and steere away 
before the Sea and Winde.' So in old age we find that our 
joy and our woe have 'sayled out of sight'. Often he must 
have looked into the sky from the deck of his ship and 
thought how ' The Heavens are high, farr off, and unsearche- 
able'; and his experience as a ruler of uncivilized races must 
have made him consider what fame ' the boundless ambition 
in mortal men' is wont to leave behind it: 

'They themselves would then rather have wished, to have 
stolen out of the world without noise, than to be put in 
minde, that they have purchased the report of their actions 
in the world, by rapine, oppression, and crueltie, by giving 
in spoile the innocent and labouring soul to the idle and 
insolent, and by having emptied the cities of the world of 



their ancient Inhabitants, and filled them againe with so 
many and so variable sorts of sorrowes.' 

But although the sounds of life and the waves of the sea 
are constantly in his ears, so that at any moment he is ready 
to throw away his pen and take command of an expedition, 
he seems in his deepest moods to reject the show and splen- 
dour of the world, to see the vanity of gold mines and of all 
expeditions save those of the soul. 

' For the rest, as all fables were commonly grounded upon 
some true stories of other things done; so might these tales of 
the Griffins receive this moral. That if those men which 
fight against so many dangerous passages for gold, or other 
riches of this world, had their perfect senses . . . they would 
content themselves with a quiet and moderate estate.' 

The thought of the passing of time and the uncertainty of 
human lot was a favourite one with the Elizabethans, whose 
lives were more at the mercy of fortune than ours are. In 
Raleigh's prose the same theme is constantly treated, but 
with an absence of the characteristic Elizabethan conceits, 
which brings it nearer to the taste of our own time; a divine 
unconsciousness seems to pervade it. Take this passage upon 
the passing of youth: 

' So as who-so-ever hee bee, to whome Fortune hath beene 
a servant, and the Time a friend: let him but take the 
accompt of his memory (for wee have no other keeper of our 
pleasures past) and truelie examine what it hath reserved, 
either of beauty and youth, or foregone delights; what it 
hath saved, that it might last, of his dearest affections, or of 
whatever else the amorous Springtime gave his thoughts of 
contentment, then unvaluable; and hee shall finde that all 
the art which his elder yeares have, can draw no other vapour 
out of these dissolutions, than heavie, secret, and sad sighs. 
. . . Onely those few blacke Swans I must except; who 
having had the grace to value worldly vanities at no more 
than their owne price; doe, by retayning the comfortable 
memorie of a well acted life, behold death without dread, 
and the grave without feare; and embrace both, as necessary 
guides to endlesse glorie.' 



This is no sudden effort of eloquence; it is prefaced and 
continued by words of almost equal beauty. In its melody 
and strength, its natural symmetry of form, it is a perfect 
speech, fit for letters of gold and the echoes of cathedral 
aisles, or for the tenderness of noble human intercourse. It 
reaches us almost with the very accent of Raleigh's voice. 
There is a magnificence with which such a being relin- 
quishes his hopes in life and dismisses the cares of 'this 
ridiculous world ' which is the counterpart of his great zest 
in living. We hear it in the deeply burdened sigh with which 
he takes his farewell of his wife. ' For the rest, when you have 
travailled and wearied all your thoughts, over all sorts of 
worldly cogitations, you shall but sitt downe by sorrowe in 
the end.' But it is most evident in his thought upon death. 
The thought of death tolls all through Elizabethan literature 
lugubriously enough in our ears, for whom, perhaps, exist- 
ence has been made less palpable by dint of much thinking 
and death more of a shade than a substance. But to the 
Elizabethans a great part of the proper conduct of life con- 
sisted in meeting the idea of death, which to them was not an 
idea but a person, with fortitude. And to Raleigh in par- 
ticular, death was a very definite enemy — death, 'which 
doth pursue us and hold us in chace from our infancy'. A 
true man, he says, despises death. And yet even as he says 
this there come to life before his eyes the 'mishapen and 
ouglye shapes' with which death tortures the imagination. 
And at last, when he has taken the idea of death to him and 
triumphed over it, there rises from his lips that magnificent 
strain of reconciliation and acknowledgment which sounds 
for ever in the ears of those who have heard it once: 'O 
eloquent, just and mightie Death! whom none could advise, 
thou hast perswaded : what none hath dared, thou hast done. ' 

1 66 

Sterne 1 

IT is the custom to draw a distinction between a man and 
his works and to add that, although the world has a claim 
to read every line of his writing, it must not ask questions 
about the author. The distinction has arisen, we may be- 
lieve, because the art of biography has fallen very low, and 
people of good taste infer that a 'life' will merely gratify a 
base curiosity, or will set up a respectable figure of sawdust. 
It is therefore a wise precaution to limit one's study of a 
writer to the study of his works; but, like other precautions, 
it implies some loss. We sacrifice an aesthetic pleasure, 
possibly of first-rate value — a life of Johnson, for example — 
and we raise boundaries where there should be none. A 
writer is a writer from his cradle; in his dealings with the 
world, in his affections, in his attitude to the thousand small 
things that happen between dawn and sunset, he shows the 
same point of view as that which he elaborates afterwards 
with a pen in his hand. It is more fragmentary and inco- 
herent, but it is also more intense. To this, which one may 
call the aesthetic interest of his character, there are added 
the various interests of circumstance — where and how he 
was born and bred and educated — which all men share, but 
which are of greater interest as they affect a more original 
talent. The weakness of modern biographers seems to lie 
not in their failure to realize that both elements are present 
in the life of a writer, but in their determination to separate 
them. It is easier for them to draw distinctions than to see 
things whole. There is a common formula, in which, having 
delivered judgment upon his work, they state that 'a few 
facts about his life' may not be inappropriate, or, writing 
from the opposite standpoint, proclaim that their concern is 
'with the man and not with his works'. A distinction is made 
1 Times Literary Supplement, August 12, 1909. 


in this way which we do not find in the original, and from 
this reason mainly arises the common complaint against a 
biography, that it is 'not like'. We have lives that are all 
ceremony and work; and lives that are all chatter and 
scandal. A certain stigma is attached to the biography which 
deals mainly with a man's personal history, and the writer 
who sees him most clearly in that light is driven to represent 
him under the cover of fiction. The fascination of novel 
writing lies in its freedom; the dull parts can be skipped, and 
the excitements intensified; but above all the character can 
be placed artistically, set, that is, in fitting surroundings and 
composed so as to give whatever impression you choose. 
The traditional form is far less definite in the case of novels 
than in the case of biographies, because (one may guess) the 
sensibilities of conventional people have much less say in 
the matter. One of the objects of biography is to make men 
appear as they ought to be, for they are husbands and 
brothers; but no one takes a character in fiction quite 
seriously. It is there, indeed, that the main disadvantage of 
novel writing lies, for the aesthetic effect of truth is only to 
be equalled by the imagination of genius. There are a dozen 
incidents in a second-rate novel which might have happened 
in a dozen different ways, and the least consciousness of 
indecision blurs the effect; but the bare statement of facts 
has an indisputable power, if we have reason to think them 
true. The knowledge that they are true, it may be, leads us 
to connect them with other ideas; but if we know that they 
never happened at all, and doubt that they could have 
happened in this way, they suggest nothing distinct, because 
they are not distinct themselves. Again, a real life is wonder- 
fully prolific; it passes through such strange places and draws 
along with it a train of adventure that no novelist can better 
them, if only he can deal with them as with his own inventions. 
Certainly, no novelist could wish for finer material than 
the life of Sterne affords him. His story was 'like a romance' 
and his genius was of the rarest. There is a trace of the usual 
apology in Professor Cross's preface, 1 to the effect that he is 
1 The Life and Times of Lawrence Sterne, by Wilbur L. Cross. 

1 68 


not going to pass judgment on the writings, but merely to 
give the facts of the life. In his opinion such facts would be 
dull enough, if it did not 'turn out', as he remarks, that the 
writings are in part autobiographical, so that one may con- 
sider his life without irrelevance. But Professor Cross has 
surely underrated the value of his material, or the use he 
has made of it, for the book makes excellent reading from 
start to finish, and persuades us that we know Sterne better 
than we did before. 

There are certain scenes upon which, were one writing a 
novel, one would like to dwell. The story of his youth is one; 
he was dragged about England and Ireland in the train of 
the regiment which his father served. His mother was a 
vulgar woman, daughter of a sutler, and his father was a 
'little smart man' who got the wound that killed him in a 
quarrel over a goose. The family trailed about, always in 
straits for money, from one garrison town to another. Some- 
times they were taken in by a rich cousin, for the Sternes 
were of old descent; sometimes in crossing the Channel they 
were 'nearly cast away by a leak springing up on board 
ship'. Little brothers and sisters were born on their wander- 
ings, and died, ' being of a fine delicate frame not made to 
last long'. Sterne, after the death of his father, was taken in 
charge by his cousin, Richard Sterne of Elvington, and sent 
to Cambridge. He sat with John Hall-Stevenson under a 
great walnut tree in the court of Jesus College, reading 
Rabelais, Rochester, and Aphra Behn, Homer, Virgil, and 
Theocritus, evil books and good books, so that they called 
the tree the tree of knowledge. Sterne, further, railed at 
'rhetoric, logic, and metaphysics . . . amused that intellect 
should employ itself in that way'. 

But it is at Sutton, eight miles from York, that we should 
like to pause and draw the portrait of the vicar. ' So slovenly 
was his dress and strange his gait, that the little boys used to 
flock round him and walk by his side.' He would stop on his 
way to church, if his pointer started a covey of partridges, 
and leave his flock without a sermon while he shot. Once, 
when his wife was out of her mind for a while and thought 



herself Queen of Bohemia, Sterne drove her through the 
stubble fields with bladders fastened to the wheels of her 
chaise to make a noise 'and then I told her this is the way 
they course in Bohemia'. He farmed his own land, played 
the violin, took lessons in painting and drawing, and drove 
into York for the races. In addition he was a violent partisan 
in the ecclesiastical disputes and drew Dr. Slop from the life. 
Then, when he was tired of parochial life he could drive over 
to the great stone house with the moat of stagnant water 
round it where John Hall-Stevenson lived, in retreat from 
the world, humouring his fancies. If the weathercock which 
he saw from his bed pointed to the north-east, for example, 
Mr. Hall-Stevenson would lie all day in bed. If he could be 
induced to rise, he spent his time in writing indecent rhymes 
and in reading with his friend among the old and obscene 
books in the library. Then, in October, the brotherhood of 
the Demoniacs met at the Hall, in imitation of the monks of 
Medmenham Abbey; but it was a rustic copy, for they were 
'noisy Yorkshire squires and gentlemen', who hunted by 
day, drank deep into the night, and told rude stories over 
their burgundy. Their spirit and their oddity (for they were 
the freaks of the countryside) rejoiced Sterne hugely, just as 
he loved the immense freedom of the old writers. When he 
was back in his parsonage again he had books all round him 
to take the place of talk. York was full of books, for the sales 
of the county took place there. Sterne's love of books reminds 
us sometimes of Charles Lamb. He loved the vast forgotten 
folios, where a lifetime of learning and fancy has been poured 
into the notes; he loved Burton and Bouchet and Bruscam- 
bille; Montaigne, Rabelais, and Cervantes he loved of 
course; but one may believe that he delighted most in his 
wild researches into medicine, midwifery, and military 
engineering. He was only brought to a stop by the difficulty 
of understanding in what way a cannon ball travels, for the 
'laws of the parabola' were not to his mind. 

He was forty-five before it occurred to him that these 
vivid experiences among the parsons, the country peasants, 
and the wits of Crazy Castle had given him a view of the 



world which it would be possible to put into shape. The 
first books of Tristram Shandy were written at fever heat, 
'quaint demons grinning and clawing at his head', ideas 
striking him as he walked, and sending him back home at a 
run to secure them. It is in this way that the first books still 
impress us; a wonderful conception, long imprisoned in the 
brain and delicately formed, seems to leap out, surprising 
and intoxicating the writer himself. He had found a key to 
the world. He thought he could go on like this, at the rate 
of two volumes a year, for ever, for a miracle had happened 
which turned all his experiences to words; to write about 
them was to be master of all that was in him and all that 
was to come. A slight knowledge of his life is enough to 
identify many of the characters with real people and to trace 
the humours of Uncle Toby and Mr. Shandy to the oddities 
of Crazy Castle and to the studies of the writer himself. But 
these are merely marks on the surface, and the source from 
which they sprang lies very deep. Wilfully strange and 
whimsical of course Sterne was, but the spirit which inspires 
his humours and connects them is the spirit of the humourist; 
the world is an absurd place, and to prove it he invents 
absurdities which he shows to be as sensible as the views by 
which the world is governed. The stranger's nose, it will be 
remembered, 'just served as a frigate to launch them into 
a gulf of school divinity, and then they all sailed before the 
wind'. Whichever way the story winds it is accompanied by 
a jibing at 'great wigs, grave faces, and other implements of 
deceit', and thus the innumerable darts and spurts of fancy, 
in spite of their variety, have a certain likeness. 

Shandy Hall, the home of cranks and eccentricities, never- 
theless contrives to make the whole of the outer world appear 
heavy, and dull and brutal, and teased by innumerable 
imps. But it is probable that this effect is given quite as much 
by indirect means as by direct satire and parody. The form 
of the book, which seems to allow the writer to put down at 
once the first thought that comes into his head, suggests 
freedom; and then the thoughts themselves are so informal, 
so small, private, and far-fetched, that the reader is amazed 



and delighted to think how easy it must be to write. Even 
his indecency impresses one as an odd kind of honesty. In 
comparison other novels seem intolerably portly and plati- 
tudinous and remote from life. At the same time, what kind 
of life is it that Sterne can show us? It is easy to see that it 
has nothing in common with what, in the shorthand of 
speech, one calls 'real life'. Sterne skips immense tracts of 
living in order to concentrate upon the little whim or the 
oddity which most delighted him. His people are always 
at high pressure, with their brains in a state of abnormal 
activity. Their wills and their affections can make small way 
against their intellects. Uncle Toby, it will be remembered, 
picks up a Bible directly he has made his offer of marriage, 
and becomes so much engrossed by the siege of Jericho that 
he leaves his proposal 'to work with her after its own way'. 
When the news of his son's death reaches Mr. Shandy, his 
mind at once fills with the fine sayings of the philosophers, 
and in spouting them his private sorrow is completely for- 
gotten. Nevertheless, although such reversals of ordinary 
experience startle us, they do not seem to us unnatural — 
they do not turn to chill conceits — because Sterne, the first 
of 'motive-mongers', has observed the humours of man with 
an exquisite subtlety. His sphere is in the most exalted 
regions, where the thought and not the act is the thing 
criticized; where the thought, moreover, is almost com- 
pletely severed from ordinary associations and the support 
of facts. Uncle Toby, with his simple questionings and 
avowals — ' You puzzle me to death ' — plays a most important 
part by bringing his brother's flights to earth and giving 
them that contrast with normal human thought in which 
the essence of humour lies. 

Yet there are moments, especially in the later books of 
Tristram Shandy, where the hobby-horse is ridden to death, 
and Mr. Shandy's invariable eccentricity tries our patience. 
The truth is that we cannot live happily in such fine air for 
long, and that we begin to become conscious of limitations; 
moreover, this astonishing vivacity has something a little 
chill about it. The same qualities that were so exhilarating 



at first — the malice, the wit, and the irresponsibility — are 
less pleasing when they seem less spontaneous, like the grin 
on a weary face; or, it may be, when one has had enough of 
them. A writer who feels his responsibility to his characters 
tries to give vent to portentous groans at intervals; he does 
his best to insist that he is a showman merely, that his judg- 
ments are fallible, and that a great mystery lies round us all. 
But Sterne's sense of humour will suffer no mystery to settle 
on his page; he is never sublime like Meredith, but on the 
other hand he is never ridiculous like Thackeray. When he 
wished to get some relief from his fantastic brilliancy, he 
sought it in the portrayal of exquisite instants and pangs of 
emotion. The famous account of Uncle Toby and the fly — 
'"Go," says he, lifting up the sash, and opening his hand as 
he spoke, to let it escape; "go, poor devil; get thee gone, 
why should I hurt thee? The world surely is wide enough to 
hold both thee and me"' — is followed by a description of 
the effect which such words had upon Sterne himself. They 
'instantly set my whole frame into one vibration of most 
pleasurable sensation'. It is this strange contradiction, as 
it seems, between feeling pain and joy acutely, and at the 
same time, observing and admiring his own power to do so, 
that has thrown so much discredit upon the famous 'senti- 
mentality', and has so much perplexed his admirers. The 
amazing truth of these observations is the best proof that he 
felt them; but when it becomes obvious that he has now 
time to think of himself our attention strays also, and we 
ask irrelevant questions — whether, for instance, Sterne was 
a good man. Sometimes — the incident of the donkey in 
Tristram Shandy is a good example — his method is brilliantly 
successful, for he touches upon the emotion, and passes on 
to show us how it travels through his mind, and what asso- 
ciations cling to it; different ideas meet and disperse, natur- 
ally as it seems; and the whole scene is lit for the moment 
with air and colour. In The Sentimental Journey, however, 
Sterne seems anxious to suppress his natural curiosity, and 
to have a double intention in his sentiment — to convey a 
feeling to the reader, but with the object of winning admira- 



tion for his own simple virtues. It is when his unmixed senti- 
ment falls very flat that we begin to ask ourselves whether 
we like the writer, and to call him hypocrite. 'The pauvre 
honteux [to whom Sterne had given alms] could say nothing; 
he pull'd out a little handkerchief, and wiped his face as he 
turned away — and I thought he thanked me more than 
them all.' The last words, with their affectation of simplicity, 
are like eyes turned unctiously to Heaven. 

There is abundant evidence in the story of his life to show 
how strange and complicated was the state of mind that 
produced such works of art. Sterne was a man of many 
passions, driven 'according as the fly stings'; but the most 
serious was said to have been inspired by Mrs. Draper, the 
Eliza of the letters. Nevertheless, sentiments that had done 
duty for his wife in 1 740 were copied out, with a change of 
name, and made to serve again for Eliza, in the year 1767; 
and again if he had turned a phrase happily in writing to 
Eliza, Lydia, his daughter, was given the benefit of it. Shall 
we infer from this that Sterne cared nothing for wife or 
mistress or daughter, or shall we believe that he was, before 
everything else, and with all the failing of his kind, a great 
artist? If he had been among the greatest, no doubt these 
little economies would not have been necessary; but with 
his exquisite and penetrating but not very exuberant genius 
it was essential to make shifts and to eke out as best he might. 
Accordingly, we have, as Professor Gross demonstrates, the 
strange spectacle of a man who uses his emotions twice over, 
for different purposes. The Journal to Eliza in which the most 
secret passions of his heart are laid bare is but the note-book 
for passages in The Sentimental Journey which all the world 
may read. Sterne himself, no doubt, scarcely knew at what 
point his own pain was dissolved in the joy of an artist. We 
at this distance of time, might speculate indefinitely. 

Indeed, however we may test it, there is no life which is 
harder to judge; its eccentricities are often genuine, and its 
impulses are often premeditated. In the same way the final 
impression is twofold in its nature, for we must combine a 
life of extraordinary flightiness and oddity with the infinite 



painstaking and self-consciousness of an artist. This thin, 
excitable man, who was devoured by consumption, who 
said of himself that he generally acted on the first impulse, 
and was a bundle of sensations scarcely checked by reason, 
not only kept a record of all that he felt, but could sit close 
at his table, arranging and rearranging, adding and altering, 
until every scene was clear, every tone was felt, and each 
word was fit and in its place. ' How do the slight touches of 
the chisel,' he exclaimed in Tristram Shandy, 'the pencil, the 
pen, the fiddle stick, et cetera, give the true swell, which gives 
the true pleasure! O, my fellow countrymen! — be nice; be 
cautious of your language — and never, O! never let it be 
forgotten upon what small particles your eloquence and 
your fame depend.' His fame depends partly upon that 
inimitable style, but rests most safely upon the extraordinary 
zest with which he lived, and upon the joy with which his 
mind worked ceaselessly upon the world. 


Eliza and Sterne 1 

OF the many difficulties which afflict the biographer, 
the moral difficulty must surely be the greatest. By 
what standard, that is to say, is he to judge the morals of the 
dead? By that of their day, or that of his own? Or should 
he, before putting pen to paper, arrive at some absolute 
standard of right and wrong by which he can try Socrates 
and Shelley and Byron and Queen Victoria and Mr. Lloyd 
George? The problem, though it lies at the root of biography 
and affects it in every fibre, is for the most part solved or 
shelved by taking it for granted that the truth was revealed 
about the year 1 850 to the fortunate natives of the British 
Isles, who need only in future take into account circum- 
stances of date, country, and sex in order to come to a 
satisfactory conclusion upon all cases of moral eccentricity 
submitted to their judgment. If we write the life of Elizabeth 
Draper, for instance, we must lay great stress upon the ques- 
tion of the morality or immorality of her relations with 
Sterne. We must ransack the evidence and profess relief or 
censure as the balance sways for her or against. We must 
attach more importance to her conduct in this respect than 
in any other. Mr. Wright and Mr. Sclater go through the 
ceremony with rigid consistency. Her 'moral culpability' is 
debated at every point, and we are invited to assist at a trial 
which, as it proceeds, comes to have less and less reality 
either for us or for anybody else. But in saying that we admit 
no levity. We are only saying what every reader of bio- 
graphy knows but few writers care to confess — that times 
are changed; that in 1850 Eliza would not have been invited 
to Court, but that in 1922 we should all be delighted to sit 
next her at dinner. 

Yet morality, though it may be the crucial difficulty, is by 

1 Times Literary Supplement, December 14, 1922. 


no means the only difficulty that the biographer has to face. 
There are the white ants of Anjengo — ' a peculiarly vora- 
cious breed', who, not satisfied with devouring the 'bulk of 
the old archives' of a town which is at once the birthplace 
of Eliza and the seat of the pepper industry, have eaten away 
a much more precious material — the life of Eliza herself. 
Again and again her conscientious biographers have to 
admit that the facts are lost. 'History ... is often most 
tantalizingly silent upon points of real interest.' The chief 
actor leaves the stage, often at the crisis of her fate, and 
in her absence our attention is directed to the antiseptic 
quality of wood ashes in the treatment of smallpox; to the 
different natures of the Hooka, the Calloon, and the Kerim 
Can; to the method, still in vogue, of hunting deer with 
cheetahs; and to the fact that one of Eliza's uncles was killed 
by a sack of caraway seeds falling on his head as he walked 
up St. Mary-at-Hill in the year 1778. These familiar diver- 
sions, which do not perhaps advance the cause of biography, 
are excusable when the subject is, as Eliza Draper was, an 
obscure woman, dead almost a century and a half, whose 
thirty-five years would have been utterly forgotten were it 
not that for three months in one of them she was loved by 
Laurence Sterne. 

She was loved, but the depredations of time and the white 
ants leave us in little doubt that the love was on his side, not 
on hers. If she was anybody's Eliza (which is by no means 
certain) she was Thomas Limbrey Sclater's Eliza. To him 
she wrote affectionately all her life; to him she sent one of 
Sterne's love-letters; and it was of him she thought when the 
ship was carrying her back to India and away from Sterne 
for ever. She should have had more sense of the becoming. 
She should have realized the predicament in which she 
places posterity. But Eliza was a woman of impulse rather 
than of reflection. 'Committing matrimony', as her sister 
called it, with Daniel Draper of Bombay at the age of four- 
teen she ruined her chances for ever. He was thirty-four, 
had several illegitimate children, was afflicted with the 
writer's cramp, and possessed all those virtues which lead 



officials to the highest promotion and make their wives 
jump into the arms of Commodore Clarke. 

'. . . By nature cool, Phlegmatic, and not adorned by 
Education with any of those pleasing Acquirements which 
help to fill up the Vacuums of time agreeably, if not usefully, 
added to which, Methodically formed, in the Extreme, by 
long habit, and not easily roused into active measures by 
any Motive Unconnected with his sense of duty.' 

Such a man (Eliza wrote of her husband in words which, 
since her emotions were strong and her grammar weak, we 
take the liberty of paraphrasing) is quite unfitted to be the 
husband of a lady entitled to 'the Appellation of Belle 
Indian'; who loved society much but solitude more; who 
read Montaigne and the Spectator; who was fourth if not 
third upon the Governor's invitation list; who wrote letters 
which some thought worthy of publication; who had been 
told finally by a friend that nature designed her for the wife 
of 'a very feeling Poet and Philosopher, rather than to a 
Gentleman of Independance and General Talents, and the 
reason he was pleased to assign to it was, the natural and 
supposed qualities of my heart, together with an expressive 
Countenance and a manner capable of doing justice to the 
tender Passions'. 

This ' acknowledged Judge of Physiognomy ' was, we may 
guess, no less a person than the great Mr. Sterne. Eliza met 
him at the house of Mrs. James in Gerrard Street in the year 
1767. Draper's increasing cramp had the somewhat incon- 
gruous effect of bringing them together. Having tried the 
English spas without success, Draper returned to Bombay 
and Eliza was left in London to continue the conversation 
with Sterne. From the Journal to Eliza we can judge fairly 
accurately what they talked about. Eliza was the most 
charming of women, Sterne the most passionate of men. 
Life was cruel, Mrs. Sterne intolerable, early marriages 
deplorable, Bombay distant, and husbands exacting. The 
only happiness to mingle thoughts and tears, to share 
ecstasies and exchange portraits, and pray for some miracle, 
such as the simultaneous deaths of Elizabeth Sterne and 



Daniel Draper, which might unite them eternally in the 
future. But though this was undoubtedly what they said, 
it is no such easy matter to be certain what they meant. 
Sterne was fifty-four, and Eliza twenty-two. Sterne was at 
the height of his fame, and Eliza at the height not of her 
beauty, which was little, but of her charm, which was great. 
But Sterne was engaged in writing The Sentimental Journey, 
and Eliza must sometimes have felt that though it was most 
wonderful and flattering to have a celebrated author sitting 
by her bedside when she fell ill, and reading her letters 
aloud to the ladies and gentlemen of the highest rank, and 
displaying her picture, and buying ten handsome brass 
screws for her cabin, and running her errands round London, 
still he was fifty-four, had a dreadful cough, and sometimes, 
she noticed, looked out of the window in a very curious way. 
No doubt he was thinking about his writing. He assured her 
that he found her of the very greatest help. And he told her 
that he had brought her name and picture into his work, 
'where', he said, 'they will remain when you and I are at 
rest'; and he went on to write an elegy upon her, and no 
doubt worked himself up into one of those accesses of emo- 
tion which any woman would have given her eyes to inspire, 
yet lying ill in bed Eliza found them a little fatiguing, and 
could not help thinking that Thomas Limbrey Sclater, who 
was not in the least likely to become immortal, was a great 
deal more to her taste than Laurence Sterne. Thus, if we 
must censure Eliza, it is not for being in love with Sterne, 
but for not being in love with him. She let him write her the 
letters of a lover and propose to her the rights of a husband. 
But when she reached India she had almost forgotten him, and 
his death recalled only ' the mild generous good Yorick ' whose 
picture hung, not above her heart, but over her writing-table. 
Arrived in India with eleven years of life before her, the 
provoking creature proceeded to live them as if she did not 
care a straw for those 'Annotators and Explainers' who 
would, Sterne said, busy themselves in after ages with their 
names. She gave herself up to trivial interests and nameless 
captains; to sitting till three in the morning upon a 'cool 



Terrasse'; to hunting antelopes with leopards; to driving 
down the streets of Tellicherry with an escort of armed 
Sepoys; to playing with her children and pouring out her 
soul in long, long letters to Mr. Sclater and Mrs. James; to 
that petty process of living, in short, which is of such inex- 
plicable interest to others engaged in the same pursuit. It is 
all very obscure and highly conjectural. She was very happy 
at Tellicherry in the year 1769 and very unhappy in the 
year 1770. She was always being happy and then unhappy 
and blaming herself and hoping that her daughter would be 
a better woman than her mother. Yet Eliza did not think 
altogether badly of herself. It was her complexion that was 
to blame, and the 'happy flexibility' of her temper. Vain, 
charming, gifted, sympathetic, her relations with her hus- 
band grew steadily more and more desperate. At last, when 
it was quite certain that Draper loved Leeds, her maid, and 
neither on Tuesday nor on Wednesday did he say that word 
' sympathetick of regret ' which ' would have saved me the 
perilous adventure', Eliza either jumped from her window 
into a boat or was otherwise conveyed to the flagship of 
Sir John Clarke and thence to her uncle's house at Masuli- 
patam. This time, without a doubt, her biographers regret- 
fully conclude, 'Eliza was "lost"'. But Eliza was not in the 
least of that opinion herself. She turned up imperturbably in 
Queen Anne Street, Cavendish Square, 'which shows that 
she had considerable social resources'; but there, alas, pro- 
ceeded to fall in love with the Abbe Raynal. Was she incor- 
rigible or was he, perhaps like others of his countrymen, apt 
to exaggerate? The terms in which he addressed Anjengo 
would lead one to suspect the latter. But death, with infinite 
discretion, spares us the inquiry. Eliza died at the age of 
thirty-five, and some unknown friend raised a monument to 
her memory in Bristol Cathedral with the figures of Genius 
and Benevolence on either side and a bird in the act of 
feeding its young. So after all somebody liked Eliza, and 
it is as certain as anything can be that a woman with such 
a tombstone was moving in the highest circles of Bristol 
society at the time of her death. 


Horace Walpole : 

ONE hundred and ten letters by Horace Walpole are 
here printed by Dr. Toynbee for the first time. 2 These, 
together with twenty-three now printed in full, new matter 
from hitherto unpublished material, and Dr. Toynbee's 
notes, make up two volumes of rare delight. If the two 
volumes were ten we should still urge Dr. Toynbee to fresh 
researches; we should still welcome the discovery of a large 
chest put away in some old country house and stuffed to the 
brim with Walpole's letters. Although there is nothing in 
the new letters of surpassing brilliance, nothing that draws 
a new line on the familiar face, there is once more, and for 
too short a time, the peculiar and unmistakable pleasure of 
Walpole's society. He does not need to be brilliant; he does 
not need to be indiscreet; let him draw up to the table, take 
the pen in his gouty fingers, and write — anything, every- 
thing, so long as he continues to write. These last letters, 
swept up from many different sources with intervals between 
them and lacking continuity, are yet neither trivial nor dis- 
connected. We fall into step at once. We take our delightful 
promenade through the greater part of the eighteenth cen- 
tury. We see in passing many old friends. It is as entertaining 
as ever. The first solemn chimes of the nineteenth century, 
which mean that Horace Walpole must retire, are as vexa- 
tious to us as the clock that strikes and sends a child 
complaining up to bed. 

Perhaps it is fanciful to detect the charm of the mature 
Walpole in 'My first letter to my mother', with which the 
book opens: 'Dear Mama, I hop you are wall and I am very 
wall and I hop papa is wall . . . and I am very glad to hear 

1 Times Literary Supplement, July 31 , 19 19. 

2 Supplement to the Letters of Horace Walpole, fourth Earl of Orford. 
Chronologically arranged and edited with notes and indices by Paget 
Toynbee. Two volumes. 



by Tom that all my cruataurs ar all wall'. Yet this is an 
engaging letter, as the dark-eyed little boy in the miniature 
is a charming little boy; and there can be no doubt that 
Walpole far sooner than most children knew his own mind 
and could overcome the difficulties of spelling. There was 
never a transition stage of awkward immaturity when he 
said more than he meant, or less than he meant, or what 
he did not mean. At the age of twenty-three he appears in 
Rome a complete man of the world, and so much his own 
master that he can already quiz the great ladies who are 
seeing the sights, execute commissions for fans and snuff- 
boxes, exchange compliments with learned men, keep his 
own mind admirably free from enthusiasm, and end a 
letter : 

Good-night, child, I am in a violent hurry. Oh, Porto 
Bello, the delightful news! Corradini is certainly to be 
Pope, and soon. Next post I shall probably be able to tell 
you he certainly is not. 

The author of that sentence is already completely equipped 
for his part. He has broken the back of the stubborn English 
tongue; for ever more it is going to run his errands, carry his 
light burdens, do his behests; he has at his disposal an 
indefatigable slave. More than that, he has already taken 
up his position, sees the spectacle from his own angle, and 
for close on eighty years there will he stand, witty, malicious, 
observant, detached, the liveliest of gossips, the most alert of 
friends. The son of a Prime Minister endowed with a hand- 
some sinecure, a position of some sort was assured him had 
he been both dunce and dullard. But Horace Walpole was 
not a dullard, and he was much more than the son of a 
Prime Minister. He stood out against his hereditary doom 
with a resolution which commands our respect, though it 
has caused him to be disparaged since, as no doubt it raised 
a laugh against him at the time. He would not drink; he 
would not dice; he would not be a country gentleman; he 
would not be a politician. He would, in short, be nothing 
save what it pleased him to be. 

On the whole it pleased him best to be a gentleman, for 



there is no reason why a gentleman should not write the 
wittiest letters in the world, provided that he does it care- 
lessly, and has for correspondents the most exalted and the 
most accomplished of his time. The chief characteristic of 
this class he had acquired very young, perhaps at the cost of 
some labour — even, it is possible, of some renunciation. 
'Good-night, child, I am in a violent hurry.' Whatever 
pains his letter had cost him, it was essential to pass it off 
as the merest trifle, something dashed down while he waited 
for the rain to stop — something, as the phrasing shows, 
spontaneous, careless, but spoken naturally in a tone of the 
highest breeding. He was careful to repeat the boast that 
he was in a violent hurry whenever he wrote anything. As 
.for rhapsody of emotion or profundity of learning, those 
qualities he left to the professional writers who had only 
their brains to live by. Moreover, it is permissible for the 
amateur to spend his time over problems which fascinated 
Walpole, though no man of sense could waste a thought 
upon them. Since no one, himself least of all, took him 
seriously, he could devote several pages to the discussion of 
that difficult and vexed question — the age at which Lady 
Desmond died. Was she really 163, and could it be possible 
that she had danced with Richard the Third? For some 
reason these questions stirred his imagination. His eagerness 
to know the exact condition of Queen Catherine Parr's 
corpse, when it was dug up and examined, would seem 
excessive — save indeed that the lady was of the highest rank. 
For it is not possible to deny that he was a snob, and of the 
determined breed whose mothers have been Shorters while 
their fathers, though not of noble birth, have been exalted 
by their abilities to familiar converse with the great. Yet 
once that dart is levelled, no other can find a lodgment. It is 
not easy to call him dilettante or gossip, poetaster or dandy, 
when before these charges are out of your mouth the culprit 
has owned them of his own accord and gone out of his way 
to pronounce his sentence: 

Good God! Sir, what am I that I should be offended at, 
or above, criticism or correction? I do not know who ought 



to be — I am sure no author. I am a private man of no 
consequence, and at best an author of very moderate 

Even in matters of taste, upon which he had spent most of 
his life and a large part of his fortune, he was open to 
correction by people possessed of greater learning than he 
could claim. He was nothing but a private gentleman. 

The reader will perceive that the habit of understatement 
is not only the essence of good breeding, but also a tool of 
great value in the hand of a writer. An author who knows no 
more than other people, who has no dignity to keep up, no 
convictions to enforce, no philosophy to expound, can say 
what he likes and think what he chooses. No one need 
attend to him. But if, in addition, by a mere stroke of luck, 
he possesses the wittiest of pens and the most observant of 
eyes, if he knows everybody worth knowing and sees every- 
thing worth seeing, we shall of course get every word he 
writes by heart. Since, however, writers should be serious, 
we shall in revenge allow him very little credit for his 
performance. It is the fashion to say that Walpole was so 
amusing because he was so frivolous, so witty because he was 
so heartless. He was certainly very much put out when old 
Madame du Deffand fell in love with him, and thought that 
at her age she could afford to talk about it openly. 'Des le 
moment que je cessai d'etre jeune, j'ai eu une peur horrible 
de devenir un vieillard ridicule', he wrote to her; and she 
replied, 'Vos craintes sur le ridicule sont des terreurs pani- 
ques, mais on ne guerit point de la peur; je n'ai point vu une 
semblable faiblesse'. He was terribly afraid of ridicule, and 
yet the old lady, whose passion he had snubbed, showed 
considerable penetration when she spoke of Textreme 
verite de votre caractere'. Understatement long persisted in, 
partly from motives of taste and propriety and partly from 
fear of ridicule, had disciplined Walpole's emotions so that 
they scarcely dared show themselves above ground; yet 
what there is of them, as sometimes happens with emotions 
repressed rather than exploited, rings startlingly true. '. . . he 
loved me and I did not think he did', he wrote of his quarrel 



with Gray, when Gray was dead. But as for his heart, let 
that rest in peace; there is some indecency in prying into it, 
and he would certainly prefer that we should credit him 
with none at all than allow him a grain too much. His brain 
is our affair. 

And yet here once more shall we not be guilty of some 
credulity if we accept him entirely at his own estimate? The 
affectation of indifference, the pose of amateurishness, were 
common foibles at that time among men of birth whose 
brains could not abstain altogether from the inkpot. But 
perhaps there were moments when Walpole wished that 
his father's name had been Shorter as well as his mother's, 
and that fate had required him to use pen and paper in 
earnest and not merely provide them, at a handsome salary, 
for the use of the young men at the Treasury. At any rate 
his warmest praises in the present volume are not for Lady 
Di's illustrations in 'Sut water' to the Mysterious Mother, 
nor even for Mrs. Darner's model of 'a shock dog in wax', 
but for the plays of Shakespeare. ' Moi, je me ferais bruler 
pour la primaute de Shakespeare.' Admiring the French and 
owing much to them, still when it comes to tragedy what 
are Voltaire and Racine and Corneille, compared with 
Shakespeare? How did Voltaire dare criticize Shakespeare? 
'Grossly ignorant and tasteless' was he not to see that the 
phrase ' a bare bodkin ' is as sublime in one way as the sim- 
plicity of Lady Percy's speech is sublime in another? 'I had 
rather have written the two speeches of Lady Percy in the 
second part of Henry IV than all Voltaire. . . . But my 
enthusiasm for Shakespeare runs away with me.' That is, 
indeed, an unwonted spectacle. But perhaps young Mr. 
Jephson, the playwright, owed all this talk about Shake- 
speare and the English language 'far more energie, and 
more sonorous too, than the French', and these interesting 
speculations about 'a novel diction', 'a very new and 
peculiar style' which might have amazing effect, 'by fixing 
on some region of whose language we have little or no idea' 
— perhaps Mr. Jephson drew all this down upon himself 
because the old dandy and aristocrat did for the time being 



envy young Mr. Jephson, who could set himself seriously to 
the task of writing and need not, since his name was Jeph- 
son, scribble off a tragedy 'in a violent hurry'. 

A queer sort of imagination haunted the seemingly pro- 
saic edifice of Walpole's mind. What but imagination gone 
astray and vagrant over pots and pans instead of firmly held 
in place was his love of knick-knacks and antiquities, Straw- 
berry hills and decomposing royalties? And once at least 
Walpole made a little confession to Madame du Deffand. 
Of all his works he preferred The Castle of Otranto, for there 
he said 'j'ai laisse courir mon imagination; les visions et les 
passions m'echauffaient'. Vision and passion are not the 
gifts that we should ascribe offhand to Horace Walpole; 
and yet as we lose ourselves in the enormous variety and 
entertainment of his letters we must allow that somehow 
from his own angle he saw truly, he judged independently. 
Somehow he was not only the wittiest of men, but the most 
observant and not the least kindly. And among the writers 
of English prose he wears for ever and with a peculiar grace 
a coronet of his own earning. 

1 86 

A Friend of Johnson' 

A GREAT book, like a great nature, may have disastrous 
effects upon other people. It robs them of their char- 
acter and substitutes its own. No one, for instance, who has 
read what Carlyle has to say about Lamb ever rids his mind 
completely of the impression, in spite of the fact that we 
judge the writer of it far more than his victim. Some deposit 
remains with us. It is strange to reflect what numbers of 
men and women live in our minds merely because Boswell 
took a note of their talk. Two or three such lines have a 
generating power; a body grows from the seed. The ordinary 
English reader knows Baretti solely through Johnson. ' His 
account of Italy', said Johnson, 'is a very entertaining 
book; and, Sir, I know no man who carries his head higher 
in conversation than Baretti. There are strong powers in his 
mind. He has not, indeed, many hooks, but with what hooks 
he has he grapples very forcibly.' This may be, as Mr. Colli- 
son-Morley 2 says, 'a very good summary', and yet his 
character is scarcely to be summarized thus; his vitality is 
too great for that. Mr. Gollison-Morley, further, has the 
advantage of knowing the Italian side of the story. 

The Barettis came from Piedmont, and Giuseppe boasted 
romantically of his noble birth. He could not live at home, 
where they wished to train him for a lawyer, but ran away 
to see the world. He lived at Milan, Venice, and Turin by 
his pen, turning out ceremonial verses to order. His quali- 
ties, however, were not those that bring success. He was 
susceptible, but so importunate that a certain Mrs. Paradise 
had to snub him with boiling water from her tea urn. Great 
animal vigour and a powerful mind made him insolent and 
overbearing in manner before his fame authorized it. Thus 

1 Times Literary Supplement, July 29, 1909. 
2 Giuseppe Baretti and his Friends, by Lacy Collison-Morley. 



he took it upon himself as a young writer to denounce 
Goldoni, the Arcadians, and Italian blank verse, when they 
were in fashion; later, when archaeology was the rage, he 
declared that antiquaries should be clapped into lunatic 
asylums, seeing merely the pedantic side of the pursuit and 
failing from some lack of imagination to foretell its future. 
To succeed in letters needed in that age the utmost tact. 
Then as now France supplied Italy with her reading to a 
great extent, for every province had its own dialect; authors 
were miserably paid, and their manuscripts had to be passed 
by two censors. Italy afforded no place for a man whose 
intellect led him to despise mere grace and scholarship, and 
whose temper urged him to speak out. 

He decided to try his fortune in England. He was amazed 
by London: Lincoln's Inn, he wrote home, was three times 
the size of St. Mark's Square; 'a great street, hung with 
painted signs and clamourous with droves of oxen and of 
sheep, carriages and foot passengers, ran right through the 
city; the wheels splash you with mud black as ink; there are 
women of "perfect beauty" mixing with horrid cripples'; 
Fielding told him that a thousand or even two thousand die 
every year from want and hunger, 'but London is so large 
it is hardly noticed'; a din of whips and curses lasts all day 
long, and at night the watchmen cry the hours hoarsely, 
'vile hounds' ring bells as they collect the letters; sweeps, 
milk-women, oyster-sellers vociferate perpetually. In spite 
of this London gradually ousted all other places in his affec- 
tions. To begin with he found that the Italian language was 
in fashion, for an Italian tour was essential; and the Italian 
opera was so popular that the audience followed the words 
by the light of private candles. He could thus keep himself 
by teaching — one of his pupils being the famous Mrs. 
Lennox, by whom he was introduced to Johnson. The merits 
of the society which Johnson ruled were precisely to the 
taste of Baretti. He loved to stretch his legs, to talk enor- 
mously, to mix with men of all callings, to ramble the streets 
at night with a companion, and the booksellers with their 
vast and indiscriminate greed for copy suited his powers 


admirably. His mind, we know, had strong hooks, and 
having set himself to learn English he made extraordinary 
progress in 'that strange and most irregular tongue'. He 
could speak street slang even, and soon could carry on a 
controversy in vigorous English prose. It is typical of him 
that he could acquire any living language with enthusiasm, 
but the dead languages bored him. He turned out diction- 
aries, and translations and travels, with the printer's devil 
waiting at the door, until a lump grew on his finger where 
the pen rested. His struggle to live by his brains is, for us, 
full of picturesque adventures. A dissertation upon the 
Italian poets introduced him to a wealthy English gentleman 
who had been engaged on a translation of Ariosto for 
twenty years. For the sake of Baretti's advice and conversa- 
tion he offered him a house and garden in his park, a gold 
watch worth forty guineas, and a wife. But the friendship 
ended in bitterness; it was said that the watch was only lent. 
Whether it was that Baretti had a drop of hot Southern 
blood in him, or whether the society of scholars was in truth 
a rough and hasty world, we certainly find matter, even in 
a slight memoir like the present, for comparisons between 
that age and this. One cannot imagine, for instance, that 
writers then retired to their studies or worked by the clock. 
They seem to have learnt by talk; their friendships thus were 
important and outspoken. Conversation was a kind of strife, 
and the jealousies and contradictions which attended the 
display gave it at least an eager excitement. Goldsmith 
found Baretti 'insolent and overbearing', Baretti thought 
Goldsmith 'an unpolished man, and an absurd companion'. 
Mrs. Lennox, having complained that Baretti paid more 
attention to her child than to herself, he retorted: 'You are a 
child in stature and a child in understanding', being gener- 
ally provoking, where opportunity offered. Indeed a society 
of clever people whose witticisms, jealousies, and emotions 
circulate is much like a society of children. Reticence and 
ceremony seem to mark middle age. 

The life of Baretti reminds us, too, in a singular way of the 
rudeness that lay outside the coffee-houses and the clubs. 



One afternoon in October, 1769, he walked from Soho to 
the Orange coffee-house in the Haymarket. On his way 
back a woman sitting on a doorstep jumped up and struck 
him. In the darkness he returned the blow, whereupon three 
bullies set upon him, and he was chased along Oxenden 
Street, shouting 'Murder' with a crowd at his heels, who 
reviled him for a Frenchman. One man made dashes for his 
pigtail, and to save himself Baretti drew a silver-bladed 
fruit knife, and stabbed him twice. As the only means of 
escape, for he was stout, near-sighted, and the road swam 
with puddles, he burst into a shop and gave himself up to 
the police. Goldsmith, we notice, drove with him to the 
prison and offered him 'every shilling' in his purse. The 
man died from the blow; Baretti was acquitted, and the 
fruit knife used to be shown at dessert. The same kind of 
roughness marks the famous friendship with the Thrales, of 
which Mr. Collison-Morley gives a very lively account. He 
lived in the family, not as a regular tutor with a salary, but 
as a hired friend who must talk in return for board and 
lodging, and might hope for an occasional present. The 
good-natured Mrs. Thrale stood it for nearly three years, 
and then, finding him intolerable with his airs and arro- 
gances, treated him 'with some coldness'; whereupon he set 
down his dish of tea, 'not half drank', went 'for my hat and 
stick that lay in the corner of the room', and walked off to 
London without saying goodbye. Johnson pleaded for him. 
'Forgive him, dearest lady, the rather because of his mis- 
behaviour; I am afraid he has learned part of me.' It was 
true, no doubt, that he traded upon a certain likeness to the 
doctor, and expected the same consideration, but he learnt 
much from him that was wholly admirable. When he went 
back to Italy in 1 763 he found that the old abuses at which 
he had tilted as a boy were still rampant. He decided to 
bring out a review, on the model of the Rambler, in which he 
could lash the Arcadians freely. In the person of Aristarco 
he delivered himself of his views upon the state of Italian 
literature, upon blank verse, Goldoni and the antiquaries, 
retailing at the same time some of Johnson's peculiarities — 



that the Scotch are inferior, and that Milton is sometimes 
dull. Nevertheless, his satire told, and his controversies 
raised such an outcry that the Frusta letteraria was suspended. 
But 'no such criticism had as yet appeared in Italy' and it 
is to-day a classic among his countrymen. But he 'could not 
enjoy his own country'. England rewarded him with a 
Secretaryship at the Royal Academy, and added a pension 
in his later years. For, industrious as he was, and in receipt 
sometimes of huge profits, his earnings never stuck to him. 
A strange kind of clumsiness united to a passionate nature 
seemed to make a child of him. What, for instance, could be 
more childish than the quarrel with Johnson as to whether 
Omai, an Otaheitan, had beaten him at chess or not? 'Do 
you think I should be conquered at chess by a savage?' 'I 
know you were', says Johnson. The two men, who respected 
each other, parted and never met again. English people 
now scarcely read his books, unless it be the Italian diction- 
ary, but his life is worth reading, because he exhibits so 
curious a mixture of power and weakness; he is in many ways 
so true a type of the man who lived by his pen in the eigh- 
teenth century; and Mr. Collison-Morley fills in the old story 
as Boswell and Mrs. Thrale told it with new matter from 
Italian sources. His life was full and vigorous; as for his 
works, he wished that every page lay at the bottom of the sea. 

19 1 

Fanny Burney's Half-Sister' 

SINCE a copy of Evelina was lately sold for the enormous 
sum of four thousand pounds; since the Clarendon Press 
has lately bestowed the magnificent compliment of a new 
edition upon Evelina', since Maria Allen was the half-sister 
of the authoress of Evelina; since the story of Evelina owed 
much to the story of Maria Allen, it may not be impertinent 
to consider what is still to be collected of the history of that 
misguided and unfortunate girl. 

As is well known, Dr. Burney was twice married. He took 
for his second wife a Mrs. Allen of Lynn, the widow of a 
substantial citizen who left her with a fortune which she 
promptly lost, and with three children, of whom one, Maria, 
was almost the same age as Fanny Burney when Dr. Burney's 
second marriage made them half-sisters. And half-sisters 
they might have remained with none but a formal tie 
between them, had not the differences between the two 
families brought about a much closer relationship. The 
Burneys were the gifted children of gifted parents. They had 
enjoyed all the stimulus that comes from running in and out 
of rooms where grown-up people are talking about books 
and music, where the piano is always open, and somebody 
— it may be David Garrick, it may be Mrs. Thrale — is 
always dropping in to dinner. Maria, on the other hand, had 
been bred in the provinces. The great figures of Lynn were 
well known to her, but the great figures of Lynn were merely 
Miss Dolly Young — who was so ugly — or Mr. Richard 
Warren, who was so handsome. The talk she heard was the 
talk of squires and merchants. Her greatest excitement was 
a dance at the Assembly Rooms or a scandal in the town. 

Thus she was rustic and unsophisticated where the Bur- 
neys were metropolitan and cultivated. But she was bold 
1 Times Literary Supplement, August 28, 1 930. 


and dashing where they were timid and reserved. She was 
all agog for life and adventure where they were always 
running away in agonies of shyness to commit their innumer- 
able observations to reams of paper. Unrefined, but generous 
and unaffected, she brought to Poland Street that whiff of 
fresh air, that contact with ordinary life and ease in the 
presence of ordinary things, which the precocious family 
lacked themselves and found most refreshing in others. 
Sometimes she visited them in London; sometimes they 
stayed with her at Lynn. Soon she came to feel for them all, 
but for Fanny in particular, a warm, a genuine, a surprised 
admiration. They were so learned and so innocent; they 
knew so many things, and yet they did not know half as 
much about life as she did. It was to them, naturally, that 
she confided her own peccadilloes and adventures, wishing 
perhaps for counsel, wishing perhaps to impress. Fanny was 
one of those shy people — ' I am not near so squeamish as you 
are', Maria observed — who draw out the confidences of 
their bolder friends and delight in accounts of actions which 
they could not possibly commit themselves. Thus in 1770 
Fanny was imparting to her diary certain confidences that 
Maria had made her of such a nature that when she read 
the book later she judged it best to tear out twelve pages and 
burn them. Happily, a packet of letters survives which, 
though rather meagrely doled out by an editor in the 
eighties, who thought them too full of dashes to be worthy of 
the dignity of print, allow us to guess pretty clearly what 
kind of secret Maria confided and Fanny recorded, and 
Fanny, grown mature, then tore up. 

For example, there was an Assembly at Lynn some time 
in 1770 to which Maria did not want to go. Bet Dickens, 
however, overcame her scruples, and she went. However, 
she was determined not to dance. However, she did dance. 
Martin was there. She broke her earring. She danced a 
minuet a quatre. She got into the chariot to come home. 
She came home. 'Was I alone? — guess — well, all is vanity 
and vexations of spirit.' It needs little ingenuity to interpret 
these nods and winks and innuendoes. Maria danced with 



Martin. She came home with Martin. She sat alone with 
Martin, and she had been strictly forbidden by her mother 
to meet Martin. That is obvious. But what is not, after all 
these years, quite so clear is for what reason Mrs. Allen 
disapproved. On the face of it Martin Rishton was a very 
good match for Maria Allen. He was well born, he had been 
educated at Oxford, he was the heir of his uncle Sir Richard 
Bettenson, and Sir Richard Bettenson had five thousand a 
year and no children. Nevertheless, Maria's mother warmly 
opposed the match. She said rather vaguely that Martin 
'had been extravagant at Oxford, and that she had heard 
some story that he had done something unworthy of a 
gentleman'. But her ostensible objections were based per- 
haps upon others which were less easy to state. There was 
her daughter's character, for example. Maria was 'a droll 
girl with a very great love of sport and mirth'. Her temper 
was lively and warm. She was extremely outspoken. ' If 
possible,' Fanny said, 'she is too sincere. She pays too little 
regard to the world; and indulges herself with too much 
freedom of raillery and pride of disdain towards those whose 
vices and follies offend her.' When Mrs. Allen looked from 
Maria to Martin she saw, there can be no doubt, something 
that made her uneasy. But what? Perhaps it was nothing 
more than that Martin was particular about appearances 
and Maria rather slack; that Martin was conventional by 
nature and Maria the very opposite; that Martin liked dress 
and decorum and that Maria was one of those heedless girls 
who say the first thing that comes into their heads and never 
reflect, if they are amused themselves, what people will say 
if they have holes in their stockings. Whatever the reason, 
Mrs. Allen forbade the match; and Sir Richard Bettenson, 
whether to meet her views or for educational purposes, sent 
his nephew in the beginning of 177 1 to travel for two years 
abroad. Maria remained at Lynn. 

Five months, however, had not passed before Martin 
burst in unexpectedly at a dinner party of relations in 
Welbeck Street. He looked very well, but when he was 
asked why he had come back in such a hurry, 'he smiled, 



but said nothing to the question'. Maria, although still at 
Lynn, at once got wind of his arrival. Soon she saw him at a 
dance, but she did not dance with him and the ban was 
evidently enforced, for her letters become plaintive and 
agitated and hint at secrets that she cannot reveal, even to 
her dear toads the Burneys. It was now her turn to be sent 
abroad, partly to be out of Martin's way, partly to finish her 
education. She was dispatched to Geneva. But the Burneys 
soon received a packet from her. In the first place, she had 
some little commissions that she must ask them to discharge. 
Would they send her a pianoforte, some music, Fordyce's 
sermons, a tea cadet, an ebony inkstand with silver-plated 
tops, and a very pretty naked wax doll with blue eyes to be 
had in Fleet-street for half a crown — all of which, if well 
wrapped up, could travel safely in the case of the pianoforte. 
She had no money to pay with at the moment, for she had 
been persuaded and indeed was sure that it was true eco- 
nomy if one passed through Paris to spend all one's money 
on clothes. But she could always sell her diamonds or she 
would give them 'a bill on somebody in London'. These 
trifling matters dispatched, she turned to something of far 
greater importance. Indeed, what she had to say was so 
important that it must be burnt at once. Indeed, it was only 
her great distress and being alone in a foreign land that led 
her to tell them at all. But the truth was — so far as can now 
be ascertained among the fragments and the dashes — the 
truth was that she had gone much farther with Martin than 
anybody knew. She had in fact confessed her love to him. 
And he had proposed something which had made her very 
angry. She had refused to do it. She had written him a very 
angry letter. She had had indeed to write it three times over 
before she got it right. When he read it he was furious. ' Did 
my character', he wrote, 'ever give you reason to imagine 
I should expose you because you loved me? 'Tis thoroughly 
unnatural — I defy the world to bring an instance of my 
behaving unworthy the Character of a Gentleman.' These 
were his very words. And, Maria wrote, 'I think such the 
sentiments of a Man of Honour, and such I hope to find 



him', she concluded; for although she knew very well that 
Hetty Burney and Mr. Crisp disliked him, he was — here she 
came out with it — the man 'on whom all my happiness in 
this Life depends and in whom I wish to see no faults'. The 
Burneys hid the letters, breathed not a word to their parents, 
and waited in suspense. Nor did they have to wait long. 
Before the spring was over Maria was back again in Poland 
Street and in circumstances so romantic, so exciting and 
above all so secret that 'I dare not,' Fanny exclaimed, 
'commit particulars to paper.' This much (and one would 
have thought it enough) only could be said: 'Miss Allen — 
for the last time I shall call her so, — came home on Monday 
last . . . she — was married last Saturday! ' It was true. Martin 
Rishton had gone out secretly to join her abroad. They had 
been married at Ypres on May 16, 1772. On the 18th Maria 
reached England and confided the grand secret to Fanny 
and Susan Burney, but she told no one else. They were 
afraid to tell her mother. They were afraid to tell Dr. 
Burney. In their dilemma they turned to the strange man 
who was always their confidant — to Samuel Crisp of 

Many years before this Samuel Crisp had retired from the 
world. He had been a man of parts, a man of fashion, and a 
man of great social charm. But his fine friends had wasted 
his substance and his clever friends had damned his play. 
In disgust with the insincerity of fashionable life and the 
fickleness of fame he had withdrawn to a decayed manor 
house near London, which, however, was so far from the 
high road and so hidden from travellers in the waste of a 
common that no one could find it unless specially instructed. 
But Mr. Crisp was careful to issue no instructions. The 
Burneys were almost the only friends who knew the way 
across the fields to his door. But the Burneys could never 
come often enough. He depended upon the Burneys for life 
and society and for news of the great world which he des- 
pised and yet could not forget. The Burney children stood 
to him in the place of his own children. Upon them he 
lavished all the shrewdness and knowledge and disillusion- 



ment which he had won at such cost to himself and now 
found so useless in an old manor house on a wild common 
with only old Mrs. Hamilton and young Kitty Cook to bear 
him company. 

It was, then, to Chesington and to Daddy Crisp that 
Maria Rishton and Susan Burney made their way on June 7 
with their tremendous secret burning in their breasts. At 
first Maria was too nervous to tell him the plain truth. She 
tried to enlighten him with hints and hums and haws. But she 
succeeded only in rousing his wrath against Martin, which 
he expressed so strongly, 'almost calling him a Mahoon', 
that Maria began to kindle and ran off in a huff to her 
bedroom. Here she resolved to take the bull by the horns. 
She summoned Kitty Cook and sent her to Mr. Crisp with 
a saucy message: 'Mrs. Rishton sent compts. and hoped to 
see him at Stanhoe this summer'. Upon receiving the mes- 
sage Mr. Crisp came in haste to the girls' bedroom. An 
extraordinary scene then took place. Maria knelt on the 
floor and hid her face in the bedclothes. Mr. Crisp com- 
manded her to tell the truth — was she indeed Mrs. Rishton? 
Maria could not speak. Kitty Cook 'claw'd hold of her 
left hand and shew'd him the ring'. Then Susan produced 
two letters from Martin which proved the fact beyond doubt. 
They had been married legally. They were man and wife. 
If that were so, there was only one thing to be done, Mr. 
Crisp declared — Mrs. Burney must be informed and the 
marriage must be made public at once. He behaved with 
all the sense and decision of a man of the world. He wrote 
to Maria's mother — he explained the whole situation. On 
getting the letter Mrs. Burney was extremely angry. She 
received the couple — she could do nothing else — but she 
never liked Martin and she never altogether forgave her 
daughter. However, the deed was done, and now the young 
couple had nothing to do but to settle down to enjoy the 
delights which they had snatched so impetuously. 

All now depended, for those who loved Maria — and 
Fanny Burney loved her very dearly — upon the character 
of Martin Rishton. Was he, as Mr. Crisp almost said, a 



Mahoon? Or was he, as his sister openly declared, a Bashaw? 
Would he make her happy or would he not? The discerning 
and affectionate eyes of Fanny were now turned observingly 
upon Martin to find out. And yet it was very difficult to 
find out anything for certain. He was a strange mixture. He 
was high-spirited; he was 'prodigiously agreeable'. But he 
was somehow, with his talk of vulgarity and distinction, 
rather exacting — he liked his wife to do him credit. For 
example, the Rishtons went on to take the waters at Bath, 
and there were the usual gaieties in progress. Fischer was 
giving a concert, and the eldest Miss Linley was singing, 
perhaps for the last time. All Bath would be there. But poor 
Maria sat alone in the lodgings writing to Fanny, and the 
reason she gave was a strange one. Martin, 'who is rather 
more exact about dress than I am, can't think of my 
appearing' unless she bought a 'suit of mignionet linen 
fringed for second mourning' to go in. She refused; the 
dress was too expensive; 'and as he was unwilling I should 
appear else, I gave up the dear Fischer — see what a cruel 
thing to have a sposo who is rather a p-p-y in those sort of 
things'. So there she sat alone; and she hated Bath; and 
she found servants such a nuisance — she had had to dismiss 
the butler already. At the same time, she was head over 
heels in love with her Rishy, and one would like to suppose 
that the tiff about the dress was made up by the present of 
Romeo, the remarkably fine brown Pomeranian dog, which 
Martin bought for a large sum at this time and gave her. 
Martin himself had a passion for dogs. 

It was no doubt in order to gratify his love of sport and 
Maria's dislike of towns that they moved on later that 
spring to Teignmouth, or as Maria calls it, to 'Tingmouth', 
in Devon. The move was entirely to her liking. Her letters 
gushed and burbled, had fewer stops and more dashes than 
ever, as she endeavoured to describe the delights of Ting- 
mouth to Fanny in London. Their cottage was ' one of the 
neatest Thatch'd cottages you ever saw'. It belonged to a 
sea captain. It was full of china glass flowers that he had 
brought home from his voyages. It was hung with prints 



from the Prayer-book and the Bible. There were also two 
pictures, one said to be by Raphael, the other by Correggio. 
The Miss Minifies might have described it as a retreat for a 
heroine. It looked on to a green. The fisher-people were 
simple and happy. Their cottages were clean and their 
children were healthy. The sea was full of whiting, salmon, 
and young mackerel. Martin had bought a brace of beauti- 
ful spaniels. It was a great diversion to make them go 
into the water. 'Indeed, we intend getting a very large 
Newfoundland dog before we leave this place.' And 
they intended to go for expeditions and take their dinner 
with them. And Fanny must come. Nothing could serve 
them but that Fanny should come and stay. It was mon- 
strous for her to say that she must stop at home and copy 
her father's manuscripts. She must come at once; and if 
she came she need not spend a penny, for Maria wore 
nothing but a common linen gown and had not had her 
hair dressed once since she came here. In short, Fanny must 

Thus solicited, Fanny arrived some time in July, 1773, 
and for almost two months lodged in the boxroom — the 
other rooms were so littered with dogs and poultry that 
they had to put her in the boxroom — and observed the 
humours of Tingmouth society and the moods of the lovers. 
There could be no doubt that they were still very much in 
love, but the truth was that Tingmouth was very gay. A 
great many families made it their summer resort; there were 
the Phippses and the Hurrels and the Westerns and the 
Golbournes; there was Mr. Crispen— -perhaps the most dis- 
tinguished man in Tingmouth — Mr. Green who lodged with 
Mr. Crispen and Miss Bowdler. Naturally, in so small a 
place, everybody knew everybody. The Phippses, the Hur- 
rels, the Rishtons, the Colbournes, Mr. Crispen, Mr. Green 
and Miss Bowdler must meet incessantly. They must make 
up parties to go to the wrestling matches, and attend the 
races in their whiskeys, and see the country people run after 
a pig whose tail had been cut off. Much coming and going 
was inevitable; but, as Fanny soon observed, it was not alto- 



gether to Martin's liking. 'They will soon make this as 
errant a public place as Bristol Hotwells or any other place,' 
he grumbled. He had nothing whatever to say against the 
Phippses or the Westerns; he had the greatest respect for 
the Hurrels, which was odd, considering how very fat and 
greedy Mr. Hurrel was; Mr. Crispen, of course, who lived 
at Bath and spoke Italian perfectly, one must respect; but 
the fact was, Martin confided to Fanny, that he 'almost 
detested ' Miss Bowdler. Miss Bowdler came of a respectable 
family. Her brother was destined to edit Shakespeare. Her 
family were old friends of the Aliens. One could not forbid 
her the house; in fact she was always in and out of it; and 
yet, said Martin, 'he could not endure even the sight of her'. 
'A woman', said Martin, 'who despises the customs and 
manners of the country she lives in, must, consequently, 
conduct herself with impropriety.' And, indeed, she did. 
For though she was only twenty-six she had come to Ting- 
mouth alone; and then she made no secret of the fact, indeed 
she avowed it quite openly 'in the fair face of day', that she 
visited Mr. Crispen in his lodgings, and not merely paid a 
call but stayed to supper. Nobody had 'the most distant 
shadow of doubt of Miss Bowdler's being equally innocent 
with those who have more worldly prudence' but at the 
same time nobody could doubt that Miss Bowdler found the 
society of gentlemen more entertaining than that of ladies — 
or could deny that though Mr. Crispen was old, Mr. Green 
who lodged with him was young. Then, of course, she came 
on to the Rishtons and encouraged Maria in her least desir- 
able attribute — her levity, her love of chaff, her carelessness 
of dress and deportment. It was deplorable. 

Fanny Burney liked Martin very much and listened to his 
complaints with sympathy; but for all her charm and dis- 
tinction, indeed because of them, she was destined unfor- 
tunately to make matters worse. Among her gifts she had the 
art of being extremely attractive to elderly gentlemen. Soon 
Mr. Crispen was paying her outrageous attentions. 'Little 
Burney' he said was irresistible; the name of Burney would 
be found — with many others, Miss Bowdler interjected — 



cut upon his heart. Mr. Crispen must implore one kiss. It 
was said of course in jest, but Miss Bowdler took it of course 
in earnest. Had she not nursed Mr. Crispen through a 
dangerous illness? Had she not sacrificed her maidenly 
reputation by visiting him in his cottage? And then Martin, 
who had been perhaps already annoyed by Mr. Crispen's 
social predominance, found it galling in the extreme to have 
that gentleman always in the house, always paying out- 
rageous compliments to his guest. Anything that 'led to- 
wards flirtation' he disliked; and soon Mr. Crispen had 
become, Fanny observed, almost as odious as Miss Bowdler. 
He threw himself into the study of Italian grammar; he read 
aloud to Maria and Fanny from the Faery Queen, ' omitting 
whatever, to the poet's great disgrace, has crept in that is 
improper for a woman's ear'. But what with Miss Bowdler, 
Mr. Crispen, the Tingmothians and the influence of un- 
desirable acquaintances upon his wife, there can be no doubt 
that Martin was very uncomfortable at Tingmouth, and 
when the time came, on September 1 7, to say good-bye he 
appeared 'in monstrous spirits'. Perhaps everybody was 
glad that the summer was at an end. They were glad to say 
good-bye and glad to be able to say it in civil terms. Mr. 
Crispen left for Bath; and Miss Bowdler — there is no rash- 
ness in the assumption — left, for Bath also. 

The Rishtons proceeded in their whiskey with all their 
dogs to visit the Westerns, one of the few families with whom 
Martin cared to associate. But the journey was unfortunate. 
They began by taking the wrong turning, then they ran 
over Tingmouth, the Newfoundland dog, who was running 
under the body of the whiskey. Then at Oxford Maria 
longed to see the colleges, but feeling sure that Martin's 
pride would be hurt at showing himself in a whiskey with a 
wife where in the old days he had ' shone forth a gay bachelor 
with a phaeton and four bays', she refused his offer to take 
her, and had her hair dressed, very badly, instead. Off they 
went again, and again they ran over two more dogs. Worst 
of all, when they arrived at the Westerns' they found the 
whole house shut up and the Westerns gone to Buckingham- 



shire. Altogether it was an unfortunate expedition. And it is 
impossible, as one reads Maria's breathless volubility to 
Fanny, to resist the conviction that the journey with its 
accidents and mistakes, with its troop of dogs, and Martin's 
pride, and Maria's fears and her recourse to the hairdresser 
and the hairdresser's ill success, and Martin's memories of 
gay bachelor days and phaetons and bay horses and his 
respect for the Westerns and his love of servants was typical 
of the obscure years of married life that were now to succeed 
each other at Stanhoe, in Norfolk. 

At Stanhoe they lived the lives of country gentry. They 
repaired the ancient house, though they had but the lease of 
it. They planted and cleaned and cut new walks in the 
garden. They bought a cow and started a dairy for Maria. 
Dog was added to dog— rare dogs, wonderful dogs, spaniels, 
lurchers, Portugal pointers from the banks of the Dowrow. 
To keep up the establishment as establishments should be 
kept up, nine servants, in Martin's opinion, were none too 
many. And so, though she had no children, Maria found 
that all her time was occupied with her household and the 
care of her establishment. But how far better, she wrote, to 
be active like this instead of leading 'the loitering life' she 
had led at Tingmouth! Surely, Maria continued, scribbling 
her heart out ungrammatically to Fanny Burney, ' there are 
pleasures for every station and employment', and one 
cannot be bored if ' as I hope I am acting properly ' ; so that 
in sober truth she did not envy Fanny Lord Stanhope's 
fete-champetre, since she had her chickens and her dairy, and 
Tingmouth, who had had the distemper, must be led out on 
a string. Why, then, regret Miss Bowdler and Mr. Crispen 
and the sport and gaiety of the old days at Tingmouth? 
Nevertheless, the old days kept coming back to her mind. 
At Tingmouth, she reflected, they had only kept a man and 
a maid. Here they had nine servants, and the more there are 
the more 'cabally and insolent' they become. And then 
relations came over from Lynn and pried into her kitchen 
and made her more 'bashful', as Martin would say, than 
ever. And then if she sat down to her tambour for half an 



hour Martin, 'who is I believe the Most Active Creature 
alive', would burst in and say. 'Come Maria, you must go 
with me and see how charmingly Damon hunts' — or he 
would say ' I know of a pheasant's nest about two miles off, 
you shall go and see it'. 

' Then away we trail broiling over Cornfields — and when 
we come to the pit some Unlucky boy has Stole the Eggs . . . 
then I spend Whole Mornings seeing him Shoot Rooks — 
grub up trees— and at night for we never come in now till 
Nine o'clock — when tea is over and I have settled my ac- 
counts or done some company business— bed-time Comes.' 

Bedtime had come; and the day had been somehow dis- 

How could she mend matters? How could she save money 
so that Martin could buy the phaeton upon which his heart 
had been set ever since they were married? She might save 
on dress, for she did not mind what she wore; but alas; 
Martin was very particular still; he did not like her to dress 
in linen. So she must manage better in the house, and she 
was not formed to manage servants. Thus she began to dwell 
upon those happy days before she had gone to Tingmouth, 
before she had married, before she had nine servants and a 
phaeton and ever so many dogs. She began to brood over 
that still more distant time when she had first known the 
Burneys and they had sat ' browsing over my little [fire] and 
eating good things out of the closet by the fire side'. Her 
thoughts turned to all those friends whom she had lost, to 
that 'lovd society which I remember with the greatest 
pleasure'; and she could never forget in particular the 
paternal kindness of Dr. Burney. Oh, she sighed as she sat 
alone in Norfolk among the pheasants and the fields, how 
she wished that ' none of my family had ever quitted his 
sheltering roof till placed under the protection of a worthy 
husband'. For her own marriage — but enough; they had 
been very much in love; they had been very happy; she 
must go and do her hair; she must try to please her Rishy. 
And so the obscure history of the Rishtons fades away, save 
what is preserved by the sprightly pen of Maria's half-sister 



in the pages of Evelina. And yet — the reflection will occur — 
if Fanny had seen more of Maria, and more of Mr. Crispen 
and even more of Miss Bowdler and the Tingmouth set, her 
later books, had they been less refined, might have been as 
amusing as her first. 


Money and Love 1 

STEEP though the ascent may be, the reward is ours 
when we stand on the top of the hill; stout though the 
biography undoubtedly is, the prospect falls into shape 
directly we have found the connecting word. The diligent 
reader of memoirs seeks it on every page — never rests until 
he has found it. Is it love or ambition, commerce, religion, 
or sport? It may be none of these, but something deep sunk 
beneath the surface, scattered in fragments, disguised behind 
frippery. Whatever it be, wherever it be, once found there is 
no biography without its form, no figure without its force. 
Stumbling and blundering in the first volume of Mr. Cole- 
ridge's life of Thomas Coutts, 2 we laid hands at length upon 
two words which between them licked rather a portly sub- 
ject into shape, doing their work, as might be expected from 
their opposite natures, first this side, then that, until what 
with a blow here and a blow there poor Thomas Coutts 
was almost buffeted to death. Yet the friction kept him 
alive; he lived, in an emaciated condition, to the age of eighty- 
six. And of the two words one is money and the other is love. 
Love in the first place had it all its own way. He married 
his brother's servant, Susannah Starkie, a woman older than 
himself. If he had been a poor man the marriage would have 
been thought sensible enough and the wife, one may be sure, 
would have come in for a word of praise from the bio- 
graphers. But as he was always a rich man, and became 
eventually the richest man in the whole of England, it was 
incumbent on Thomas Coutts to prove that the Starkies, 
though now declined, were descended from the ancient 
family of the Starkies of Leigh and Pennington, and it is 
inevitable that we should inquire whether Mrs. Coutts broke 

1 The Athenaeum, March 12, 1920. 
2 The Life of Thomas Coutts, Banker, by Ernest Hartley Coleridge. 



her heart and lost her wits ' beneath the burden of an honour 
to which she was not born'. There is no doubt that she lost 
her wits. Her heart, one must suppose, since no sound of 
its breakage has escaped, was smothered to death. She is 
scarcely mentioned. Perhaps she dropped her aitches. Per- 
haps it was as much as she could do to stand upright at the 
top of the staircase in Stratton Street and shake hands with 
the Royal Dukes without displaying her origin. She con- 
trived never to give offence and never to attract attention; 
and, from a housemaid, what more could be expected? Save 
for one sinister gleam when she speaks a whole sentence in 
her proper person, it is all dark and dim and decorous. She 
had her children, it is true; of whom three daughters sur- 
vived. But the children were heiresses, and must be sent to 
fashionable schools, where Mr. Coutts, more ambitious for 
them than for himself, hinted his wish that they should make 
friends with the daughters of Lord George Sutton, 'as I 
should like them to be acquainted with honest people'. They 
had a French Countess of the old nobility for their governess. 
From their birth onwards they were swathed and swaddled 
in money. 

In his office in the Strand, year in, year out, Thomas 
Coutts made his fortune by methods which will be plain 
enough to some readers and must remain a matter of mys- 
tery to others. He was a hard-headed man of business; he 
was indefatigable; he 'knew how to be complaisant and how 
and when to assert his independence'; he was judicious in 
the floating of Government loans; and he lived within his 
means. We may accept Mr. Coleridge's summary of his 
business career, and take his word for it that the rolling up 
of money went forward uneventfully enough. To the out- 
sider there is a certain grimness in the spectacle. Who is 
master and who is slave? The two seem mixed in bitter 
conflict of some sort — such groans escape him now and then, 
and the lean, wire-drawn face, with the tight-closed lips and 
the anxious eyes, wears such an expression of nervous appre- 
hension. Once, when he was driving with his old friend 
Colonel Crawfurd, he sat silent hour after hour, and the 



Colonel, reaching home, wrote in a fury to demand an 
explanation of 'this silent contempt', which in another 
would have demanded sword or pistol. ' It is too, too foolish', 
exclaimed poor Coutts; the truth was merely that 'my 
spirit's gone, and my mind worn and harras'd', and 'I am 
now rather an object of pity than resentment'. 

But whatever secret anguish compelled the richest man in 
England to drive hour after hour in silence, there were also 
amenities and privileges attached to his state which light- 
ened the office gloom and tinged the ledgers with radiance. 
The reader becomes aware of a curious note in the tone in 
which his correspondents address him. There is an intimate, 
agonized strain in all their voices. His correspondents were 
some of the greatest people in the land; yet they wrote 
generally with their own hands, and often added the injunc- 
tion: 'Burn this Letter the moment it is read' . . . 'Name it 
not to my Lord', this particular document continues, 'or to 
any creature on earth'. For royal as they were, beautiful, 
highly gifted, they were all in straits for money; all came 
to Thomas Coutts; all approached him as suppliants and 
sinners beseeching his help and confessing their follies as if 
he were something between doctor and priest. He hard from 
Lady Chatham the story of her distress when the payment 
of Chatham's pension was delayed; he bestowed £10,000 
upon Charles James Fox, and earned his effusive gratitude; 
the Royal Dukes laid their said circumstances before him; 
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, confessed her gambling 
losses, called him her dear friend and died in his debt. 
Lady Hester Stanhope thundered and growled melodiously 
enough from the top of Mount Lebanon. Naturally, then, 
Thomas Coutts had only to say what he wanted, and some 
very powerful people bestirred themselves to get it for him. 
He wanted introductions for his daughters among the 
French nobility; he wanted George the Fourth to bank with 
him; he wanted the King's leave to drive his carriage 
through St. James's Park. But he wanted some things that 
not even the Duchess of Devonshire could procure. He 
wanted health; he wanted a son-in-law. 



There was, Mr. Coleridge says, 'a singular dearth of 
suitors for his daughters and his ducats'. Was it that Mrs. 
Coutts had in her housemaid days thrown soapsuds over 
Lord Dundonald? Or was it that the presence of madness 
in the Coutts family showed itself unmistakably in the fre- 
quent ' nervous complaints ' of the three sisters? At any rate, 
Sophia, the youngest, was nineteen when she became en- 
gaged to Francis Burdett; and heiresses presumably should 
be wearing their coronets years before that. Then her two 
elder sisters pledged their affections suitably enough. But 
love always came among the Couttses wearing the mask of 
tragedy or comedy, or both together in grotesque combina- 
tion. The two young men, thus singled out, against all advice 
and entreaty rushed the Falls of Schaff hausen in an open 
punt. Both were drowned. Two years later Susan recovered 
sufficiently to marry Lord Guilford, and after mourning for 
seven years Fanny accepted Lord Bute; but Lord Bute was 
a widower of fifty-six with nine children, and Lord Guilford 
fell from his horse ' when in the act of presenting a basket of 
fruit to Miss Coutts', and so injured his spine that he lan- 
guished in bodily suffering for years before, prematurely, he 

But from all those impressions and turns of phrase which, 
more than any statement of facts, shape life in biographies 
as they do in reality, we are convinced that Thomas Coutts 
loved his daughters intensely and sincerely, pitying their 
sufferings, devising pleasures and comforts for them, and 
sometimes, perhaps, wishing to be assured that when all was 
said and done they were happy, which, upon the same evi- 
dence, it is easy to guess that they were not. Even in these 
days Sir Francis Burdett caused his father-in-law some 
anxiety. The following extract hints the reason of it: 

Going to Piccadilly yesterday at two o'clock, I met Mr. 
Burdett. ... I asked him where he was going ... I asked 
him if he had been under any engagement to Mr. White- 
foord, upon which, to do him justice, he blushed — and, 
with great signs of astonishment, confessed that he had 
entirely forgot it, though he had particularly remembered 



it the day before . . . To us, exact people, these things seem 

Probably Mr. Coutts was not altogether surprised to find 
that a man who was capable of forgetting an enagement 
could defy the House of Commons, stand a siege in his 
house, be taken forth by Life Guards through a crowd 
shouting 'Burdett for ever!' and suffer imprisonment in the 
Tower. Later, Coutts had to insist that his son-in-law should 
leave his house; but on that occasion our sympathies are 
with the banker. Like most people, Sir Francis lost his 
temper, his manners, his humanity, and everything decent 
about him when he was in danger of losing a legacy. But 
for the present the legacies were secure, and the surface of 
life was splendid and serene. Mr. and Mrs. Coutts lived in 
the great house in Stratton Street; they travelled from one 
fine country seat to another, the guests of a Duke here, of 
an Earl there; their wealth increased and increased, and 
Thomas Coutts was consulted upon delicate matters by 
Prime Ministers and Kings. He acted as ambassador be- 
tween the House of Hanover and the House of Stuart — 
almost equally to his delight, he transmitted winter petti- 
coats from Paris to Devonshire House. 

But the splendid surface had deep cracks in it, and when 
William the Fourth dined with the Couttses, Mrs. Coutts — 
so he declared — would always whisper to him on the way 
downstairs, ' Sir, are you not George the Third's father? ' 
'I always answered in the affirmative,' said the King . . . 
'there's no use contradicting women, young or old, eh?' 
She was losing her wits. For the last ten years of her life 
she was out of her mind. But old Coutts would have her lead 
the King down to dinner, and would tend her faithfully 
himself when doctors and daughters besought him to put 
her under control. He was a devoted husband. 

At the same time he was a devoted lover. During the ten 
years that Mrs. Coutts was going from bad to worse and 
being tenderly cared for by her husband, he was lavishing 
horses, carriages, villas, sums in the 'Long Annuities', upon 
a young actress in Little Russell Street. The paradox has 



disturbed his biographers. Leaving to others the task of 
determining how far the relation between the old banker 
and the young woman was immoral, we must admit that we 
like him all the better for it; more, it seems to prove that he 
loved his wife. For the first time he hears the birds at dawn 
and notices the spring leaves. Like his Harriot, birds and 
leaves seem to him innocent and fresh. 

You who can look to Heaven with so much pleasure 
and so pure a heart must have great pleasure in viewing 
such beautiful skies . . . eat light nourishing food — mutton 
roast and broiled is the best — porter is not good for you 
... I kiss the paper you are to look upon and beg you to 
kiss it just here. Your dear lips will then have touched 
what mine touch just now. . . . The estate of Otham, you 
see, I have enquired about. Your 3 p. ct. Consol and 
Long Annuity. . . . 

So it goes on from birds to flannel night-caps, from eternal 
devotion to profitable investments; but the strain that links 
together all these diverse notes is his recurring and constant 
adoration for Harriot's ' pure, innocent, honest, kind, affec- 
tionate heart'. It was a terrible blow to his daughters and 
sons-in-law to find that at his age he was capable of enter- 
taining such illusions. When it came out that, four days 
after Mrs. Coutts was buried, the old gentleman of seventy- 
nine had hurried off to St. Pancras Church and married 
himself (illegally, as it turned out, by one of those misadven- 
tures which always beset the Coutts family when they were 
in love) to an actress of no birth and robust physique, the 
lamentations that rent the family in twain were bitter in the 
extreme. What would become of his money? As they could 
not ask this openly, they took the more roundabout way 
of 'imputing to the servants' at Stratton Street that Mrs. 
Coutts was poisoning her husband and was in the habit of 
receiving men in her bedroom when half-undressed. Coutts 
replied to his daughters and his sons-in-law in bitter, agitated 
letters which make painful, though spirited, reading after a 
hundred years. How they tortured him! How they grudged 
him his happiness! How grateful he would have been for a 



word of sympathy! Still, he had his Harriot, and though she 
was only gone into the next room, he must write her a letter 
to say how he loves her and trusts her and begs her not 
to mind the spiteful things that his family say about her. 
'Your constant, happy, and most affectionate husband' he 
signs himself, and she invokes 'My beloved Tom!' Indeed, 
Harriot deserved every penny she got, and we rejoice to 
think that she got them all. She was a generous woman. She 
was bountiful to her stepdaughters; she was always burying 
broken-down actors in luxury, and putting up marble 
tablets to their memories; and she married a Duke. But 
every year of her life she drove down to Little Russell Street, 
got out of her carriage, dismissed her servants, and walked 
along the dirty lane to have a look at the house where she 
had begun life as 'a poor little player child'. And once, long 
after Tom was dead, she dreamed of Tom, and noted on the 
flyleaf of her Prayer Book how he had come to her looking 
'well, tranquil, and divine. He anxiously desired me to 
change my shoes', which was, no doubt, true to the life; but 
in the dream it was 'for fear of taking cold, as I had walked 
through waters to him', which somehow touches us as if 
Tom and Harriot had walked through bitter waters to 
rescue their little fragment of love from all that money. 


The Dream 1 

THIS is a depressing book. 2 It leaves one with a feeling 
not of humiliation, that is too strong a word, nor of 
disgust, that is too strong also. It makes us feel — it is to 
Mr. Bullock's credit as a biographer — that we have been 
watching a stout white dog performing tricks in front of an 
audience which eggs it on, but at the same time jeers. There is 
nothing in the life and death of a best-seller that need cause 
us this queasiness. The lives of those glorious geese Florence 
Barclay and Ella Wheeler Wilcox can be read without a 
blush for them or for ourselves. They were performers too — 
conjurors who tumbled bank notes, billiard balls, fluttering 
pigeons out of very seedy hats. But they lived, and they lived 
with such gusto that no one can fail to share it. With Marie 
Corelli it was different. 

Her life began with a trick and rather a shady trick. The 
editor of the Illustrated London News, a married man, 'wan- 
dering round Stratford-on-Avon church' fell in love with a 
woman. That bald statement must be draped. Dr. Mackay 
committed an immoral act with a female who was not of 
his own social standing. 'This unwelcome flowering of his 
lighter moments', as Mr. Bullock calls it — Corelliism is 
catching — was a child. But she was not called Marie and 
she was not called Corelli. Those were names that she 
invented later to drape the fact. Most of her childhood was 
spent draping facts in the 'Dream Hole', a mossy retreat in 
a dell at Box Hill. Sometimes George Meredith appeared 
for a moment among the tendrils. But she never saw him. 
Wrapped in what she called later 'the flitting phantasma- 
goria of the universal dream' she saw only one person — 
herself. And that self, sometimes called Thelma, sometimes 

1 The Listener, February 15, 1940. 
2 Marie Corelli: The Life & Death of a Best-Seller, by George Bullock. 



Mavis Clare, draped in white satin, hung with pure lilies, 
and exhibited twice a year in stout volumes for which the 
public paid her ten thousand pounds apiece, is as damning 
an indictment of Victorian taste in one way as the Albert 
Memorial is in another. Of those two excrescences, perhaps 
that which we call Marie Corelli is the more painful. The 
Albert Memorial is empty; but within the other erection 
was a live human being. It was not her fault; society blew 
that golden bubble, as Miss Corelli herself might have 
written, from the black seed of shame. She was ashamed of 
her mother. She was ashamed of her birth. She was ashamed 
of her face, of her accent, of her poverty. Most girls, as 
empty-headed and commonplace as she was, would have 
shared her shame, but they would have hidden it — under 
the table-cloth, behind the chiffonier. But nature had en- 
dowed her with a prodigious power of making public con- 
fession of this small ignoble vice. Instead of hiding herself 
she exposed herself. From her earliest days she had a rage 
for publicity. 'I'll be "somebody"', she told her governess. 
'I'll be as unlike anybody else as I can!' 'That would 
hardly be wise,' said Miss Knox placidly. 'You would then 
be called eccentric' But Miss Knox need not have been 
afraid. Marie Corelli did not wish to be unlike anybody 
else; she wanted to be as like everybody else in general, and 
the British aristocracy in particular, as it was possible to be. 
But to attain that object she had only one weapon — the 
dream. Dreams, apparently, if made of the right material, 
can be astonishingly effective. She dreamt so hard, she 
dreamt so efficiently, that with two exceptions all her dreams 
came true. Not even Marie Corelli could dream her shifty 
half-brother into the greatest of English poets, though she 
worked hard to 'get him made Poet Laureate', or transform 
her very dubious father into an eminent Victorian man of 
letters. All that she could do for Dr. Mackay was to engage 
the Caledonian pipers to play at his funeral and to postpone 
that function from a foggy day to a fine one in order that his 
last appearance might be given full publicity. Otherwise all 
her dreams materialized. Ponies, motor-cars, dresses, houses 



furnished 'like the tea lounge at the Earl's Court Exhibi- 
tion', gondolas, expensively-bound editions of Shakespeare 
— all were hers. Cheques accumulated. Invitations showered. 
The Prince of Wales held her hand in his. ' Out of small 
things what wonders rise', he murmured. Gladstone called 
on her and stayed for two hours. ' Ardath\ he is reported to 
have said, 'is a magnificent conception.' On Easter Sunday 
the Dean of Westminster quoted Barabbas from the pulpit. 
No words, the Dean said, could be more beautiful. Rostand 
translated her novels. The whole audience at Stratford-on- 
Avon rose to its feet when she came into the theatre. 

All her dreams came true. But it was the dream that 
killed her. For inside that ever-thickening carapace of solid 
dream the commonplace vigorous little woman gradually 
ceased to live. She became harder, duller, more prudish, 
more conventional; and at the same time more envious and 
more uneasy. The only remedy that revived her was pub- 
licity. And like other drug-takers she could only live by 
increasing the dose. Her tricks became more and more 
extravagant. On May Day she drove through the streets 
behind ponies wreathed in flowers; she floated down the 
Avon in a gondola called The Dream with a real gondolier 
in a scarlet sash. The press resounded with her lawsuits, her 
angry letters, her speeches. And then even the Press turned 
nasty. They omitted to say that she had been present at the 
Braemar gathering. They gave full publicity to the fact that 
she had been caught hoarding sugar. 

For her there is some excuse. But how are we to excuse the 
audience that applauded the exhibition. Queen Victoria 
and Mr. Gladstone can be excepted. The taste of the exalted 
is apt to become dropsical. And there is excuse for 'the 
million', as Marie Corelli called them — if her books saved 
one working-man from suicide, or allowed a dressmaker's 
drudge here and there to dream that she, too, was Thelma 
or Mavis Clare, there were not films then to sustain them 
with plush and glow and rapture after the day's work. But 
what are we to say of Oscar Wilde? His compliments may 
have been ambiguous; but he paid them, and he printed 



her stories. And what are we to say of the great ladies of her 
adored aristocracy? 'She is a common little thing', one of 
them remarked. But no lunch or dinner party was complete 
without her. And what are we to say of Mr. Arthur Severn? 
'Pendennis' she called him. He accepted her hospitality, 
tolerated that effusion which she was pleased to call her 
passion, and then made fun of her accent. 'Ouwels', she 
said instead of 'owls', and he laughed at her. And what are 
we to say of the press that levelled all its cameras at the 
stout old woman who was ashamed of her birth, 'got busy' 
about her mother — was her name Cody or was it Kirtland? 
— was she a bricklayer's daughter or an Italian countess? — 
who had borne this illegitimate child? 

But though it would be a relief to end in a burst of right- 
eous indignation, the worst of this book is that it provokes 
no such glow, but only the queasiness with which we watch 
a decked-up dog performing rather ordinary tricks. It is a 
relief when the performance is over. Only, unfortunately, 
that is not altogether the fact. For, still at Stratford-on-Avon, 
Mason Croft is kept precisely as it was when Marie Corelli 
lived there. There is the silver ink-pot still full of ink as she 
left it; the hands of the clock still point to 7.15 as they did 
when she died; all her manuscripts are carefully preserved 
under glass cases; and the 'large, empty bed, covered with 
a heavy white quilt, which is more awe-inspiring than a 
corpse, as a scarcely clothed dancer excites more than does 
a nude' awaits the dreamer. So Stratford-on-Avon, along 
with other relics, preserves a lasting monument to the taste 
of the Victorian Age. 


The Fleeting Portrait 

i. Waxworks at the Abbey l 

NOBODY but a very great man could have worn the 
Duke of Wellington's top hat. It is as tall as a chimney, 
as straight as a ramrod, as black as a rock. One could have 
seen it a mile off advancing indomitably down the street. 
It must have been to this emblem of incorruptible dignity 
that the Duke raised his two fingers when passers-by re- 
spectfully saluted him. One is almost tempted to salute 
it now. 

The connexion between the waxworks in the Abbey and 
the Duke of Wellington's top hat is one that the reader will 
discover if he goes to the Abbey when the waxworks are 
shut. The waxworks have their hours of audience like other 
potentates. And if that hour is four and it is now a trifle past 
two, one may spend the intervening moments profitably in 
the United Services Museum in Whitehall, among cannon 
and torpedos and gun-carriages and helmets and spurs and 
faded uniforms and the thousand other objects which piety 
and curiosity have saved from time and treasured and num- 
bered and stuck in glass cases forever. When the time comes 
to go, indeed, there is not as much contrast as one would 
wish, perhaps, between the Museum at one end of Whitehall 
and the Abbey at the other. Too many monuments solicit 
attention with outstretched hands; too many placards ex- 
plain this and forbid that; too many sightseers shuffle and 
stare for the past and the dead and the mystic nature of the 
place to have full sway. Solitude is impossible. Do we wish 
to see the Chapels? We are shepherded in flocks by gentle- 
men in black gowns who are for ever locking us in or locking 
us out; round whom we press and gape; from whom drop 

1 The New Republic, April 1 1 , 1 928. 


raucously all kinds of dry unappetizing facts; how much 
beauty this tomb has; how much age that; when they were 
destroyed; by whom they were restored and what the cost 
was — until everybody longs to be let off a tomb or two and 
is thankful when the lesson hour is over. However, if one is 
very wicked, and very bored, and lags a little behind; if the 
key is left in the door and turns quite easily, so that after all 
it is an open question whether one has broken one's country's 
laws or not, then one can slip aside, run up a little dark stair- 
case and find oneself in a very small chamber alone with 
Queen Elizabeth. 

The Queen dominates the room as she once dominated 
England. Leaning a little forward so that she seems to 
beckon you to come to her, she stands, holding her sceptre 
in one hand, her orb in the other. It is a drawn, anguished 
figure, with the pursed look of someone who goes in per- 
petual dread of poison or of trap; yet forever braces herself 
to meet the terror unflinchingly. Her eyes are wide and 
vigilant; her nose thin as the beak of a hawk; her lips shut 
tight; her eyebrows arched; only the jowl gives the fine 
drawn face its massiveness. The orb and the sceptre are 
held in the long thin hands of an artist, as if the fingers 
thrilled at the touch of them. She is immensely intellectual, 
suffering, and tyrannical. She will not allow one to look 

Yet in fact the little room is crowded. There are many 
hands here holding other sceptres and orbs. It is only beside 
Queen Elizabeth that the rest of the company seems insig- 
nificant. Flowing in velvet they fill their glass cases, as they 
once filled their thrones, with dignity. William and Mary are 
an amiable pair of monarchs; bazaar-opening, hospital- 
inspecting, modern; though the King, unfortunately, is a 
little short in the legs. Queen Anne fondles her orb in her 
lap with plump womanly hands that should have held a 
baby there. It is only by accident that they have clapped a 
great crown on her hair and told her to rule a kingdom, 
when she would so much rather have flirted discreetly— she 
was a pretty woman; or run to greet her husband smiling — 



she was a kindly one. Her type of beauty in its homeliness, 
its domesticity, comes down to us less impaired by time than 
the grander style. The Duchess of Richmond, who gave her 
face to Britannia on the coins, is out of fashion now. Only 
the carriage of the little head on the long neck, and the 
simper and the still look of one who has always stood still to 
be looked at assure us that she was beautiful once and had 
lovers beyond belief. The parrot sitting on its perch in the 
corner of the case seems to make its ironical comment on 
all that. Once only are we reminded of the fact that these 
effigies were moulded from the dead and that they were laid 
upon coffins and carried through the streets. The young 
Duke of Buckingham who died at Rome of consumption is 
the only one of them who has resigned himself to death. He 
lies very still with the ermine on his shoulders and the 
coronet on his brows, but his eyes are shut; his nose is a great 
peak between two sunk cheeks; he has succumbed to death 
and lies steeped in its calm. His aloofness compares strangely 
with the carnality of Charles the Second round the corner. 
King Charles still seems quivering with the passions and 
the greeds of life. The great lips are still pouting and water- 
ing and asking for more. The eyes are pouched and creased 
with all the long nights they have watched out — the torches, 
the dancing, and the women. In his dirty feathers and lace 
he is the very symbol of voluptuousness and dissipation, and 
his great blue-veined nose seems an irreverence on the part 
of the modeller, as if to set the crowd, as the procession 
comes by, nudging each other in the ribs and telling merry 
stories of the monarch. 

And so from this garish bright assembly we run down- 
stairs again into the Abbey, and enter that strange muddle 
and miscellany of objects both hallowed and ridiculous. Yet 
now the impression is less tumultuous than before. Two 
presences seem to control its incoherence, as sometimes a 
chattering group of people is ordered and quieted by the 
entry of someone before whom, they know not why, they fall 
silent. One is Elizabeth, beckoning; the other is an old 



2. The Royal Academy ' 

'The motor-cars of Empire — the bodyguard of Europe — 
the stainless knight of Belgium ' — such is our English romance 
that nine out often of those passing from the indiscriminate 
variety of Piccadilly to the courtyard of Burlington House 
do homage to the embattled tyres and the kingly presence of 
Albert on his high-minded charger with some nonsense of 
this sort. They are, of course, only the motor-cars of the 
rich grouped round a statue; but whether the quadrangle in 
which they stand radiates back the significance of everything 
fourfold, so that King Albert and the motor-cars exude the 
essence of kingliness and the soul of vehicular traffic, or 
whether the crowd is the cause of it, or the ceremonious 
steps leading up, the swing-doors admitting and the flunkeys 
fawning, it is true that, once you are within the precincts, 
everything appears symbolic, and the state of mind in which 
you ascend the broad stairs to the picture galleries is both 
heated and romantic. 

Whatever visions we may have indulged, we find our- 
selves on entering confronted by a lady in full evening dress. 
She stands at the top of a staircase, one hand loosely closed 
round a sheaf of lilies, while the other is about to greet 
someone of distinction who advances towards her up the 
stairs. Not a hair is out of place. Her lips are just parted. 
She is about to say, 'How nice of you to come!' But such is 
the skill of the artist that one does not willingly cross the 
range of her cordial and yet condescending eye. One prefers 
to look at her obliquely. She said, 'How nice of you to 
come! ' so often and so graciously while I stood there that at 
last my eye wandered off in search of people of sufficient 
distinction for her to say it to. There was no difficulty in 
finding them. Here was a nobleman in a kilt, the Duke of 

R ; here a young officer in khaki, and, to keep him 

company, the head and shoulders of a young girl, whose 

upturned eyes and pouting lips appear to be entreating the 

1 The Athenaeum, August 22, 1919. 



sky to be bluer, roses to be redder, ices to be sweeter, and 
men to be manlier for her sake. To do her justice, the gallant 
youth seemed to respond. As they stepped up the staircase to 
the lady in foaming white he vowed that come what might — 
the flag of England — sweet chimes of home — a woman's 
honour — an Englishman's word — only a scrap of paper — 
for your sake, Alice — God save the King — and all the rest of 
it. The range of her vocabulary was more limited. She kept 
her gaze upon the sky or the ice or whatever it might be 
with a simple sincerity which was enforced by a single row 
of pearls and a little drapery of white tulle about the shoul- 
ders. ' How nice of you to come! ' said the hostess once more. 
But immediately behind them stumped the Duke, a bluff 
nobleman, 'more at home on the brae-side than among 
these kickshaws and knick-knacks, my lady. Splendid sport. 
Twenty antlers and Buck Royal. Clean between the eyes, 
eh what? Out all day. Never know when I'm done. Cold 
bath, hard bed, glass of whiskey. A mere nothing. Damned 
foreigners. Post of duty. The Guard dies, but never sur- 
renders. The ladies of our family — Up, Guards, and at 
them! Gentlemen — ' and, as he utters the last words in a 
voice choked with emotion, the entire company swing round 
upon their heels, displaying only a hind view of their per- 
fectly fitting mess-jackets, since there are some sights that 
it is not good for man to look upon. 

The scene, though not all the phrases, comes from a story 
by Rudyard Kipling. But scenes from Rudyard Kipling 
must take place with astonishing frequency at these parties 
in order that the English maidens and gallant officers may 
have occasion to insist upon their chastity on the one hand 
and protect it on the other, without which, so far as one can 
see, there would be no reason for their existence. Therefore 
it was natural to look about me, a little shyly, for the sinister 
person of the seducer. There is, I can truthfully say, no such 
cur in the whole of the Royal Academy; and it was only 
when I had gone through the rooms twice and was about to 
inform the maiden that her apprehensions, though highly 
creditable, were in no way necessary that my eye was 



caught by the white underside of an excessively fine fish. 
'The Duke caught that!' I exclaimed, being still within the 
radius of the ducal glory. But I was wrong. Though fine 
enough, the fish, as a second glance put it beyond a doubt, 
was not ducal; its triangular shape, let alone the fact that a 
small urchin in corduroys held it suspended by the tail, was 
enough to start me in the right direction. Ah, yes — the 
harvest of the sea, toilers of the deep, a fisherman's home, 
nature's bounty — such phrases formed themselves with 
alarming rapidity — but to descend to details. The picture, 
No. 306, represents a young woman holding a baby on her 
knee. The child is playing with the rough model of a ship; 
the large fish is being dangled before his eyes by a brother a 
year or two older in a pair of corduroys which have been cut 
down from those worn by the fisherman engaged in cleaning 
cod on the edge of the waves. Judging from the superb 
rosiness, fatness, and blueness of every object depicted, even 
the sea itself wearing the look of a prize animal tricked out 
for a fair, it seemed certain that the artist intended a com- 
pliment in a general way to the island race. But something 
in the woman's eye arrested me. A veil of white dimmed the 
straightforward lustre. It is thus that painters represent the 
tears that do not fall. But what, we asked, had this great 
hulk of a matron surrounded by fish, any one of which was 
worth eighteenpence the pound, to cry for? Look at the 
little boy's breeches. They are not, if you look closely, of the 
same pattern as the fisherman's. Once that fact is grasped, 
the story reels itself out like a line with a salmon on the end 
of it. Don't the waves break with a sound of mockery on the 
beach? Don't her eyes cloud with memories at the sight of 
a toy boat? It is not always summer. The sea has another 
voice than this; and, since her husband will never want his 
breeches any more — but the story when written out is pain- 
ful, and rather obvious into the bargain. 

The point of a good Academy picture is that you can 
search the canvas for ten minutes or so and still be doubtful 
whether you have extracted the whole meaning. There is, 
for example, No. 248, 'Cocaine'. A young man in evening 



dress lies, drugged, with his head upon the pink satin of a 
woman's knee. The ornamental clock assures us that it is 
exactly eleven minutes to five. The burning lamp proves 
that it is dawn. He, then, has come home to find her waiting? 
She has interrupted his debauch? For my part, I prefer to 
imagine what in painters' language (a tongue well worth 
separate study) would be called 'a dreary vigil'. There she 
has sat since eight-thirty, alone, in pink satin. Once she rose 
and pressed the photograph in the silver frame to her lips. 
She might have married that man (unless it is her father, 
of which one cannot be sure) . She was a thoughtless girl, 
and he left her to meet his death on the field of battle. 
Through her tears she gazes at the next photograph — pre- 
sumably that of a baby (again the painter has been content 
with a suggestion). As she looks a hand fumbles at the door. 
'Thank God!' she cries as her husband staggers in and falls 
helpless across her knees, 'thank God our Teddy died!' 
So there she sits, staring disillusionment in the eyes, and 
whether she gives way to temptation, or breathes a vow to 
the photographs, or gets him to bed before the maid comes 
down, or sits there for ever, must be left to the imagination 
of the onlooker. 

But the queer thing is that one wants to be her. For a 
moment one pretends that one sits alone, disillusioned, in 
pink satin. And then people in the little group of gazers 
begin to boast that they have known sadder cases them- 
selves. Friends of theirs took cocaine. ' I myself as a boy for 
a joke — ' 'No, George — but how fearfully rash!' Everyone 
wished to cap that story with a better, save for one lady 
who, from her expression, was acting the part of consoler, 
had got the poor thing to bed, undressed her, soothed her, 
and even spoken with considerable sharpness to that un- 
worthy brute, unfit to be a husband, before she moved on in 
a pleasant glow of self-satisfaction. Every picture before 
which one of these little groups had gathered seemed to 
radiate the strange power to make the beholder more heroic 
and more romantic; memories of childhood, visions of possi- 
bilities, illusions of all kinds poured down upon us from the 



walls. In a cooler mood one might accuse the painters of 
some exaggeration. There must be well over ten thousand 
delphiniums in the Royal Academy, and not one is other 
than a perfect specimen. The condition of the turf is beyond 
praise. The sun is exquisitely adapted to the needs of the 
sundials. The yew hedges are irreproachable; the manor 
house a miracle of timeworn dignity; and as for the old man 
with a scythe, the girl at the well, the village donkey, the 
widow lady, the gipsies' caravan, the boy with a rod, each 
is not only the saddest, sweetest, quaintest, most picturesque, 
tenderest, jolliest of its kind, but has a symbolical meaning 
much to the credit of England. The geese are English geese, 
and even the polar bears, though they have not that advan- 
tage, seem, such is the persuasion of the atmosphere, to be 
turning to carriage rugs as we look at them. 

It is indeed a very powerful atmosphere; so charged with 
manliness and womanliness, pathos and purity, sunsets and 
Union Jacks, that the shabbiest and most suburban catch a 
reflection of the rosy glow. 'This is England! these are the 
English!' one might exclaim if a foreigner were at hand. 
But one need not say that to one's compatriots. They are, 
perhaps, not quite up to the level of the pictures. Some are 
meagre; others obese; many have put on what is too ob- 
viously the only complete outfit that they possess. But the 
legend on the catalogue explains any such discrepancy in a 
convincing manner. 'To give unto them beauty for ashes. 
Isaiah lxi. 3' — that is the office of this exhibition. Our ashes 
will be transformed if only we expose them openly enough 
to the benignant influence of the canvas. So we look again 
at the Lord Chancellor and Mr. Balfour, at the Lady B., at 
the Duke of R., at Mr. Ennever of the Pelman Institute, at 
officers of all descriptions, architects, surgeons, peers, den- 
tists, doctors, lawyers, archbishops, roses, sundials, battle- 
fields, fish, and Skye terriers. From wall to wall, glowing 
with colour, glistening with oil, framed in gilt, and pro- 
tected by glass, they ogle and elevate, inspire and command. 
But they overdo it. One is not altogether such a bundle of 
ashes as they suppose, or sometimes the magic fails to work. 



A large picture by Mr. Sargent called 'Gassed' at last 
pricked some nerve of protest, or perhaps of humanity. In 
order to emphasize his point that the soldiers wearing 
bandages round their eyes cannot see, and therefore claim 
our compassion, he makes one of them raise his leg to the 
level of his elbow in order to mount a step an inch or two 
above the ground. This little piece of over-emphasis was the 
final scratch of the surgeon's knife which is said to hurt more 
than the whole operation. After all, one had been jabbed 
and stabbed, slashed and sliced for close on two hours. The 
lady began it, the Duke continued it; little children had 
wrung tears; great men extorted veneration. From first to 
last each canvas had rubbed in some emotion, and what the 
paint failed to say the catalogue had enforced in words. But 
Mr. Sargent was the last straw. Suddenly the great rooms 
rang like a parrot-house with the intolerable vociferations 
of gaudy and brainless birds. How they shrieked and gib- 
bered! How they danced and sidled! Honour, patriotism, 
chastity, wealth, success, importance, position, patronage, 
power — their cries rang and echoed from all quarters. 
' Anywhere, anywhere, out of this world ! ' was the only 
exclamation with which one could stave off the brazen din 
as one fled downstairs, out of doors, round the motor-cars, 
beneath the disdain of the horse and its rider, and so out 
into the comparative sobriety of Piccadilly. No doubt the 
reaction was excessive; and I must leave it to Mr. Roger Fry 
to decide whether the emotions here recorded are the proper 
result of one thousand six hundred and seventy-four works 
of art. 


Poe's Helen 1 

THE real interest of Miss Ticknor's volume 2 lies in the 
figure of Mrs. Whitman, and not in the love letters from 
Poe, which have already been published. It is true that if it 
had not been for her connexion with Poe we should never 
have heard of Helen Whitman; but it is also true that Poe's 
connexion with Mrs. Whitman was neither much to his 
credit nor a matter of moment to the world at large. If it 
were our object to enhance the charm of 'the only true 
romantic figure in our literature', as Miss Ticknor calls him, 
we should have suppressed his love letters altogether. Mrs. 
Whitman, on the other hand, comes very well out of the 
ordeal, and was evidently, apart from Poe, a curious and 
interesting person. 

She wrote poetry from her childhood, and when in early 
youth she was left a widow she settled down to lead a literary 
life in earnest. In those days and in America this was not so 
simple a proceeding as it has since become. If you wrote an 
essay upon Shelley, for example, the most influential family 
in Providence considered that you had fallen from grace. If, 
like Mr. Ellery Channing, you went to Europe and left your 
wife behind, this was sufficient proof that you were not a 
'great perfect man', as the true poet is bound to be. Mrs. 
Whitman took her stand against such crudities, and, indeed, 
rather went out of her way to invite attack. Whatever the 
fashion and whatever the season she wore her ' floating veils ' 
and her thin slippers, and carried a fan in her hand. By 
means of ' inverting her lampshades ' and hanging up bits of 
drapery her sitting-room was kept in a perpetual twilight. It 
was the age of the Transcendentalists, and the fans and the 
veils and the twilight were, no doubt, intended to mitigate 

1 Times Literary Supplement, April 5, 191 7. 
2 Poe's Helen, by Caroline Ticknor. 



the solidity of matter, and entice the soul out of the body 
with as little friction as possible. Nature too had been kind in 
endowing her with a pale, eager face, a spiritual expression, 
and deep-set eyes that gazed 'beyond but never at you'. 

Her house became a centre for the poets of the district, for 
she was witty and charming as well as enthusiastic. John 
Hay, G. W. Curtis, and the Hon. Wilkins Updike used to 
send her their works to criticize, or in very long and abstruse 
letters tried to define what they meant by poetry. The mark 
of that particular set, which was more or less connected with 
Emerson and Margaret Fuller, was an enthusiastic cham- 
pionship of the rights of the soul. They ventured into a 
sphere where words naturally were unable to support them. 
'Poetry', as Mr. Curtis said, 'is the adaption of music to an 
intellectual sphere. But it must therefore be revealed through 
souls too fine to be measured justly by the intellect. . . . 
Music ... is a womanly accomplishment, because it is 
sentiment, and the instinct declares its nature', etc. This 
exalted mood never quite deserted them when they were 
writing about matters of fact. When Mrs. Whitman forgot 
to answer a letter Mr. Curtis inquired whether she was ill 
'or has the autumn which lies round the horizon like a 
beautifully hued serpent crushing the flower of summer 
fascinated you to silence with its soft, calm eyes?' Mrs. 
Whitman, it is clear, was the person who kept them all up 
to this very high standard. Thus things went on until Mrs. 
Whitman had reached the age of forty-two. One July night, 
in 1845, she happened to be wandering in her garden in the 
moonlight when Edgar Allan Poe passed by and saw her. 
'From that hour I loved you', he wrote later. '. . . your 
unknown heart seemed to pass into my bosom — there to 
dwell for ever.' The immediate result was that he wrote the 
verses To Helen which he sent her. Three years later, when 
he was the famous poet of The Raven, Mrs. Whitman replied 
with a valentine, of which the last stanza runs — 

Then, oh grim and ghastly Raven 
Wilt thou to my heart and ear 


Be a Raven true as ever 

Flapped his wings and croaked ' Despair ' ? 

Not a bird that roams the forest 

Shall our lofty eyrie share. 

For some time their meeting was postponed, and no word 
of prose passed between them. It might have been postponed 
for ever had it not been for another copy of verses which 
Mrs. Whitman ended with the line 

/ dwell with 'Beauty which is Hope\ 

Upon receipt of these verses Poe immediately procured a 
letter of introduction and set off to Providence. His declara- 
tion of love took place in the course of the next fortnight 
during a walk in the cemetery. Mrs. Whitman would not 
consent to an engagement, but she agreed to write to him, 
and thus the famous correspondence began. 

Professor Harrison can only compare Poe's letters to the 
letters of Abelard and Eloise or to the Sonnets from the 
Portuguese', Miss Ticknor says that they have won themselves 
a niche among the world's classic love letters. Professor 
Woodberry, on the other hand, thinks that they should 
never have been published. We agree with Professor Wood- 
berry, not because they do damage to Poe's reputation, but 
because we find them very tedious compositions. Whether 
you are writing a review or a love letter the great thing is to 
be confronted with a very vivid idea of your subject. When 
Poe wrote to Mrs. Whitman he might have been addressing 
a fashion plate in a ladies' newspaper — a fashion plate 
which walks the cemetery by moonlight, for the atmosphere 
is one of withered roses and moonshine. The fact that he 
had buried Virginia a short time before, that he denied his 
love for her, that he was writing to Annie at the same time 
and in the same style, that he was about to propose to a 
widow for the sake of her money — all his perfidies and 
meannesses do not by themselves make it impossible that 
he loved Mrs. Whitman genuinely. Were it not for the 
letters we might accept the charitable view that this was his 
last effort at redemption. But when we read the letters we 



feel that the man who wrote them had no emotion left 
about anything; his world was a world of phantoms and 
fashion plates; his phrases are the cast-off phrases that were 
not quite good enough for a story. He could see neither 
himself nor others save through a mist of opium and alcohol. 
The engagement, which had been made conditional upon 
his reform, was broken off; Mrs. Whitman sank on to a sofa 
holding a handkerchief ' drenched in ether ' to her face, and 
her old mother rather pointedly observed to Poe that the 
train was about to leave for New York. 

Cynical though it sounds, we doubt whether Mrs. Whit- 
man lost as much as she gained by the unfortunate end of 
her love affair. Her feeling for Poe was probably more that 
of a benefactress than of a lover; for she was one of those 
people who 'devoutly believe that serpents may be re- 
claimed. This is only effected by patience and prayer — but 
the results are wonderful.' This particular serpent was irre- 
claimable; he was picked up unconscious in the street and 
died a year later. But he left behind him a crop of reptiles 
who taxed Mrs. Whitman's patience and needed her prayers 
for the rest of her life. She became the recognized authority 
upon Poe, and whenever a biographer was in need of facts 
or old Mrs. Clemm was in need of money they applied to 
her. She had to decide the disputes of the different ladies as 
to which had been loved the most, and to keep the peace 
between the rival historians, for whether a woman is more 
vain of her love or an author of his work has yet to be 
decided. But the opportunities which such a position gave 
her of endless charity and literary discussion evidently suited 
her and the good sense and wit of the bird-like little woman, 
who was extremely poor and had an eccentric sister to 
provide for, seem to justify her statement that ' the results 
are wonderful'. 


Visits to Walt Whitman 1 

THE great fires of intellectual life which burn at Oxford 
and at Cambridge are so well tended and long estab- 
lished that it is difficult to feel the wonder of this concentra- 
tion upon immaterial things as one should. When, however, 
one stumbles by chance upon an isolated fire burning 
brightly without associations or encouragement to guard it, 
the flame of the spirit becomes a visible hearth where one 
may warm one's hands and utter one's thanksgiving. It is 
only by chance that one comes upon them; they burn in 
unlikely places. If asked to sketch the condition of Bolton 
about the year 1885 one's thoughts would certainly revolve 
round the cotton market, as if the true heart of Bolton's 
prosperity must lie there. No mention would be made of the 
group of young men — clergymen, manufacturers, artisans, 
and bank clerks by profession — who met on Monday even- 
ings, made a point of talking about something serious, could 
broach the most intimate and controversial matters frankly 
and without fear of giving offence, and held in particular 
the view that Walt Whitman was 'the greatest epochal 
figure in all literature'. Yet who shall set a limit to the effect 
of such talking? In this instance, besides the invaluable 
spiritual service, it also had some surprisingly tangible 
results. As a consequence of those meetings two of the talkers 
crossed the Atlantic; a steady flow of presents and messages 
set in between Bolton and Camden; and Whitman as he lay 
dying had the thought of 'those good Lancashire chaps' in 
his mind. The book 2 recounting these events has been pub- 
lished before, but it is well worth reprinting for the light it 
sheds upon a new type of hero and the kind of worship 
which was acceptable to him. 

1 Times Literary Supplement, January 3, 1918. 

2 Visits to Walt Whitman in i8go-gi, by J. Johnston and J. W. Wallace. 



To Whitman there was nothing unbefitting the dignity of 
a human being in the acceptance either of money or of 
underwear, but he said that there is no need to speak of these 
things as gifts. On the other hand, he had no relish for a 
worship founded upon the illusion that he was somehow 
better or other than the mass of human beings. 'Well,' he 
said, stretching out his hand to greet Mr. Wallace, 'you've 
come to be disillusioned, have you?' And Mr. Wallace 
owned to himself that he was a little disillusioned. Nothing 
in Walt Whitman's appearance was out of keeping with the 
loftiest poetic tradition. He was a magnificent old man, 
massive, shapely, impressive by reason of his power, his 
delicacy, and his unfathomable depths of sympathy. The 
disillusionment lay in the fact that 'the greatest epochal 
figure in all literature' was 'simpler, homelier, and more 
intimately related to myself than I had imagined'. Indeed, 
the poet seems to have been at pains to bring his common 
humanity to the forefront. And everything about him was 
as rough as it could be. The floor, which was only half car- 
peted, was covered with masses of papers; eating and wash- 
ing things mixed themselves with proofs and newspaper 
cuttings in such ancient accumulations that a precious 
letter from Emerson dropped out accidentally from the mass 
after years of interment. In the midst of all this litter Walt 
Whitman sat spotlessly clean in his rough grey suit, with 
much more likeness to a retired farmer whose working days 
are over; it pleased him to talk of this man and of that, to ask 
questions about their children and their land; and, whether 
it was the result of thinking back over places and human 
beings rather than over books and thoughts, his mood was 
uniformly benignant. His temperament, and no sense of 
duty, led him to this point of view, for in his opinion it 
behoved him to 'give out or express what I really was, and, 
if I felt like the Devil, to say so!' 

And then it appeared that this wise and free-thinking old 
farmer was getting letters from Symonds and sending mes- 
sages to Tennyson, and was indisputably, both in his opinion 
and in yours, of the same stature and importance as any of 



the heroic figures of the past or present. Their names dropped 
into his talk as the names of equals. Indeed, now and then 
something seemed 'to set him apart in spiritual isolation 
and to give him at times an air of wistful sadness', while into 
his free and easy gossip drifted without effort the phrases 
and ideas of his poems. Superiority and vitality lay not in a 
class but in the bulk; the average of the American people, he 
insisted, was immense, 'though no man can become truly 
heroic who is really poor'. And 'Shakespeare and such- 
like' come in of their own accord on the heels of other 
matters. 'Shakespeare is the poet of great personalities.' As 
for passion, 'I rather think iEschylus greater'. 'A ship in 
full sail is the grandest sight in the world, and it has never 
yet been put into a poem.' Or he would throw off comments 
as from an equal height upon his great English contem- 
poraries. Carlyle, he said, 'lacked amorousness'. Carlyle 
was a growler. When the stars shone brightly — 'I guess an 
exception in that country' — and some one said 'It's a 
beautiful sight', Carlyle said, 'It's a sad sight'. . . . 'What 
a growler he was ! ' 

It is inevitable that one should compare the old age of 
two men who steered such different courses until one saw 
nothing but sadness in the shining of the stars and the other 
could sink into a reverie of bliss over the scent of an orange. 
In Whitman the capacity for pleasure seemed never to 
diminish, and the power to include grew greater and greater; 
so that although the authors of this book lament that they 
have only a trivial bunch of sayings to offer us, we are left 
with a sense of an ' immense background or vista ' and stars 
shining more brightly than in our climate. 


Oliver Wendell Holmes 1 

A HUNDRED years ago one might talk more glibly of 
American literature than it is safe to do at present. The 
ships that pass each other on the Atlantic do more than lift 
a handful of Americans and Englishmen from one shore to 
another; they have dulled our national self-consciousness. 
Save for the voice and certain small differences of manner 
which give them a flavour of their own, Americans sink into 
us, over here, like raindrops into the sea. On their side they 
have lost much of that nervous desire to assert their own 
independence and maturity in opposition to a mother 
country which was always reminding them of their tender 
age. Such questions as Lowell conceived — 'A country of 
parvenus, with a horrible consciousness of shoddy running 
through politics, manners, art, literature, nay, religion 
itself?' and answered as we may guess, no longer fret them; 
the old adjectives which Hawthorne rapped out — 'the 
boorishness, the stolidity, the self-sufficiency, the contemp- 
tuous jealousy, the half sagacity (etc., etc.) that characterize 
this strange people ' — are left for their daily Press in moments 
of panic; for international criticism, as Mr. Henry James 
has proved, has become a very delicate and serious matter. 
The truth is that time and the steamboats have rubbed out 
these crudities; and if we wish to understand American art, 
or politics, or literature, we must look as closely as we look 
when blood and speech are strange to us. 

The men who were most outspoken against us brought 
about this reasonable relationship partly because we read 
their books as our own, and partly because literature is able 
to suggest the surroundings in which it is produced. We are 
now able to think of Boston or Cambridge as places with a 
life of their own as distinct and as different from ours as the 
1 Times Literary Supplement, August 26, 1909. 


London of Pope is different from the London of Edward 
VII. The man who contributed to this intimacy, which is 
founded upon an understanding that we differ in many 
ways, as much as any of the rest, was undoubtedly Oliver 
Wendell Holmes, although he did it by means that were 
very different from theirs. He was, in some respects, the 
most complete American of them all. 

He was born in 1809 of the best blood in the country, for 
his father, the Rev. Abiel Holmes, came from an old Puritan 
stock which might be traced to a lawyer of Gray's Inn in the 
sixteenth century, and his mother, Sarah Wendell, had dis- 
tinguished blood from many sources, Dutch and Norman 
and good American. His father was stern and handsome, 
and taught 'the old-fashioned Calvinism, with all its hor- 
rors'; his mother was a little sprightly woman, inquisitive 
and emotional. People who knew them said that the son 
inherited more from her than from his father. It was one of 
the charming characteristics of the mature man that he was 
always looking back to his childhood, and steeping it in such 
shade and quaintness as a ' gambrel-roofed house' built in 
1730 will provide; like Hawthorne he had a pathetic desire 
to mix his childish memories with something old, mysterious, 
and beautiful in itself. There were dents in the floor where 
the soldiers had dropped their muskets during the Revolu- 
tion; the family portraits had been slashed by British 
rapiers; and there was a chair where Lord Percy had sat to 
have his hair dressed. From the vague memories that hang 
about his early years, and inspire some of the pleasantest 
pages in his books, one may choose two for their import- 
ance. 'I might have been a minister myself, for aught I 
know, if had not looked and talked so like an under- 
taker.' It was not until much later that he could analyse 
what had happened to him as a child. When he could read 
he was taught that ' We were a set of little fallen wretches, 
exposed to the wrath of God by the fact of that existence 
which we could not help.' He was roused in revolt against 
what he called 'the inherited servitude of my ancestors', 
and not only decided against the ministry as a calling, but 



never ceased to preach the beliefs which his early revolt had 
taught him. These beliefs were started in him, or at any rate 
his old views were shaken for ever, by a peep through a 
telescope on the common at the transit of Venus. He looked, 
and the thought came to him, like a shock, that the earth too 
was no bigger than a marble; he went on to think how this 
planet is 'equipped and provisioned for a long voyage in 
space'. The shock seems to have shown him both that we 
are part of a great system, and also that our world will last 
for a period 'transcending all our ordinary measures of 
time'. If it is true that we are to continue indefinitely, then 
it is possible, he found, to consider that 'this colony of the 
universe is an educational institution' and this is 'the only 
theory which can "justify the way of God to man"'. We 
may disbelieve in the Garden of Eden and in the fall of man; 
and we may believe that ' this so-called evil to which I cannot 
close' is a passing condition from which we shall emerge. 
He had found a basis for that optimism which inspired his 
teaching, and, if the reasons which he gave seem insufficient, 
his conclusions and the way they came to him — looking 
through a telescope for ten cents at the transit of Venus — 
bear out much that we think when we know him better. The 
practical result of the conflict was that he became a doctor 
instead of a clergyman, spent two years in Paris studying 
his profession, visited England and Italy on his way, and 
returned to practise in Boston, living there and at Cam- 
bridge, with the exception of his hundred days in Europe, 
for the rest of his life. 

The most diligent of biographers can find little to add to 
such a record, nor did Dr. Holmes come to the rescue. His 
letters are not intimate; like other people who write much 
about themselves in public, he has little to say in private. 
As a doctor he never won a large practice, for he not only 
collected a volume of poetry from time to time, but smiled 
when the door was opened and made jokes upon the stair- 
case. When someone asked him what part of anatomy he 
liked best, he answered: 'The bones; they are cleanest'. The 
answer shows us the 'plain little dapper man', who could 



never bear the sights of a sick-room, who laughed to relieve 
the tension, who would run away when a rabbit was to be 
chloroformed, who was clean and scrupulous in all respects, 
and inclined, as a young man, to satirize the world with a 
somewhat acrid humour. Two friends have put together a 
picture of him. 'A small, compact, little man . . . buzzing 
about like a bee, or fluttering like a humming bird, exceed- 
ingly difficult to catch unless he be really wanted for some 
kind act, and then you are sure of him.' The other adds that 
he has a 'powerful jaw and a thick strong under-lip, that 
gives decision to his look, with a dash of pertness. In con- 
versation he is animated and cordial — sharp, too, taking the 
words out of one's mouth.' 

At this time, before the publication of the Autocrat, he was 
famous for his talk and for his verses. The verses were for the 
most part inspired by dinners and 'occasions'; they light 
up for us the circle of American men of letters who met and 
talked at Parker's Hotel, as men had talked at Will's Coffee 
House; they are addressed to people who know each other 
well. His reputation, therefore, independently of his medical 
works, was very intense, but very local. He was almost fifty 
when the first of the Autocrat papers ' came from my mind 
almost with an explosion'. The Professor and The Poet fol- 
lowed; then there were the two novels; he became, in short, 
a man of letters from whom the public expects a regular 
statement of opinion. Even at this distance it is easy to 
imagine the rush with which the Autocrat came into the 
world. Every breakfast- table in Boston knew the writer by 
repute, knew of his birth and traditions, and read his views 
in print with a kind of personal pride, as though he were the 
mouthpiece of a family. Those associations are no longer 
ours; but, as the manner of beauty clings when beauty is 
gone, so we can still relish the gusto with which Dr. Holmes 
addressed himself to his fellow-citizens. 

This is true, and yet is it possible that we should not dwell 
upon such considerations if we were altogether beneath the 
Autocrat's spell? There is, we must own it, a little temptation 
to try to account for our ancestors' tastes, and so to avoid 



formulating our own. The chief interest, however, of these 
centenary celebrations is that they provide an opportunity 
for one generation to speak its mind of another with a can- 
dour and perhaps with an insight which contemporaries 
may hardly possess. The trial is sharp, for the books that 
live to such an age will live to a much greater age, and raise 
the standard of merit very high. Let us own at once that 
Dr. Holmes's works can hardly be said to survive in the sense 
that they still play any part in our lives; nor is he among the 
writers who live on without any message to deliver because 
of the sheer delight that we take in their art. The fact that 
there is someone who will write a centenary biography for a 
public that reads the Autocrat cannot be set down to either 
of these causes; and yet, if we seek it on a lower plane, we 
shall surely find reason enough. There is, to begin with, the 
reason that our own experience affords us. When we take it 
up at a tender age — for it is one of the first books that one 
reads for oneself — it tastes like champagne after breakfast 
cups of weak tea. The miraculous ease with which the talk 
flows on, the richness of simile and anecdote, the humour 
and the pathos, the astonishing maturity of the style, and, 
above all, some quality less easy to define, as though fruits 
just beyond our reach were being dropped plump into our 
hands and proving deliciously firm and bright — these sensa- 
tions make it impossible to think of the Autocrat save as an 
elderly relative who has pressed half-sovereigns into one's 
palm and at the same time flattered one's self-esteem. Later, 
if some of the charm is gone, one is able to appraise these 
virtues more soberly. They have, curiously enough, far more 
of the useful than of the ornamental in their composition. 
We are more impressed, that is, by the honesty and the 
common sense of the Autocrat's remarks, and by the fact that 
they are the fruit of wide observation, than by the devices 
with which they are decked out. 

The pages of the book abound with passages like the 

Two men are walking by the polyphloesbcean ocean, 
one of them having a small tin cup with which he can 



scoop up a gill of sea-water when he will, and the other 
nothing but his hands, which will hardly hold water at 
all — and you call the tin cup a miraculous possession! It 
is the ocean that is the miracle, my infant apostle! Nothing 
is clearer than that all things are in all things, and that 
just according to the intensity and extension of our mental 
being we shall see the many in the one and the one in the 
many. Did Sir Isaac think what he was saying when he 
made his speech about the ocean — the child and the 
pebbles, you know? Did he mean to speak slightingly of a 
pebble? Of a spherical solid which stood sentinel over its 
compartment of space before the stone that became the 
pyramids had grown solid, and has watched it until now! 
A body which knows all the currents of force that traverse 
the globe; which holds by invisible threads to the ring of 
Saturn and the belt of Orion! A body from the contempla- 
tion of which an archangel could infer the entire inorganic 
universe as the simplest of corollaries! A throne of the all- 
pervading Deity, who has guided its very atom since the 
rosary of heaven was strung with beaded stars! 

This is sufficiently plausible and yet light in weight; the 
style shares what we are apt to think the typical American 
defect of over-ingenuity and an uneasy love of decoration; 
as though they had not yet learnt the art of sitting still. The 
universe to him, as he says, 'swam in an ocean of similitudes 
and analogies'; but the imaginative power which is thus 
implied is often more simply and more happily displayed. 
The sight of old things inspires him, or memories of boy- 

Now, the sloop-of-war the Wasp, Captain Blakely, after 
gloriously capturing the Reindeer and the Avon, had 
disappeared from the face of the ocean, and was supposed 
to be lost. But there was no proof of it, and, of course, for a 
time, hopes were entertained that she might be heard 
from. Long after the last real chance had utterly van- 
ished, I pleased myself with the fond illusion that some- 
where on the waste of waters she was still floating, and 
there were years during which I never heard the sound of 
the great gun booming inland from the Navy-yard with- 
out saying to myself, 'The Wasp has come!' and almost 
thinking I could see her, as she rolled in, crumpling 



the water before her, weather-beaten, barnacled, with 
shattered spars and threadbare canvas, welcomed by the 
shouts and tears of thousands. This was one of those 
dreams that I nursed and never told. Let me make a 
clean breast of it now, and say that, so late as to have 
outgrown childhood, perhaps to have got far on towards 
manhood, when the roar of the cannon has struck sud- 
denly on my ear, I have started with a thrill of vague 
expectation and tremulous delight, and the long-unspoken 
words have articulated themselves in the mind's dumb 
whisper, The Wasp has come! 

The useful virtues are there, nevertheless. The love of joy, 
in the first place, which raced in his blood from the cradle 
was even more of a virtue when the Autocrat was published 
than it is now. There were strict parents who forbade their 
children to read the book because it made free with the 
gloomy morality of the time. His sincerity, too, which would 
show itself in an acrid humour as a young man, gives an air 
of pugnacity to the kindly pages of the Autocrat. He hated 
pomp, and stupidity, and disease. It may not be due to the 
presence of high virtues, and yet how briskly his writing 
moves along! We can almost hear him talk, 'taking the 
words out of one's mouth', in his eagerness to get them said. 
Much of this animation is due to the easy and almost inces- 
sant play of the Autocrat's humour; and yet we doubt whether 
Dr. Holmes can be called a humourist in the true sense of 
the word. There is something that paralyses the will in 
humour, and Dr. Holmes was primarily a medical man who 
valued sanity above all things. Laughter is good, as fresh air 
is good, but he retracts instinctively if there is any fear that 
he has gone too deep: 

/ know it is a sin 

For me to sit and grin — 

that is the kindly spirit that gives his humour its lightness, 
and, it must be added, its shallowness. For, when the range 
is so scrupulously limited, only a superficial insight is pos- 
sible; if the world is only moderately ridiculous it can never 



be very sublime. But it is easy enough to account for the fact 
that his characters have little hold upon our sympathies by 
reflecting that Dr. Holmes did not write in order to create 
men and women, but in order to state the opinions which a 
lifetime of observation had taught him. We feel this even in 
the book which has at least the form of a novel. In Elsie 
Venner he wished to answer the question which he had asked 
as a child; can we be justly punished for an hereditary sin? 
The result is that we watch a skilful experiment; all Dr. 
Holmes's humour and learning (he kept a live rattlesnake 
for months, and read ' all printed knowledge ' about poison) 
play round the subject, and he makes us perceive how 
curious and interesting the case is. But — for this is the sum 
of our objections — we are not interested in the heroine; and 
the novel so far as it seeks to convince us emotionally is a 
failure. Even so, Dr. Holmes succeeds, as he nearly always 
does succeed, in making us think; he presents so many facts 
about rattlesnakes and provincial life, so many reflections 
upon human life in general, with such briskness and such a 
lively interest in his own ideas, that the portentous 'physio- 
logical conception, fertilized by a theological idea', is as 
fresh and almost as amusing as the Autocrat or The Professor. 
The likeness to these works, which no disguise of fiction will 
obscure, proves again that he could not, as he puts it, 'get 
cut of his personality', but by that we only mean to define 
his powers in certain respects, for 'personality' limits 
Shakespeare himself. We mean that he is one of those writers 
who do not see much more than other people see, and yet 
they see it with some indescribable turn of vision, which 
reveals their own character and serves to form their views 
into a coherent creed. Thus it is that his readers always talk 
of their 'intimacy' with Dr. Holmes; they know what kind 
of person he was as well as what he taught. They know that 
he loved rowing and horses and great trees; that he was full 
of sentiment for his childhood; that he liked men to be 
strong and sanguine, and honoured the weakness of women; 
that he loathed all gloom and unhealthiness; that charity 
and tolerance were the virtues he loved, and if one could 



combine them with wit it was so much to the good. Above 
all, one must enjoy life and live to the utmost of one's 
powers. It reads something like a medical prescription, and 
one does not want health alone. Nevertheless, when the 
obvious objections are made, we need not doubt that it will 
benefit thousands in the future, and they will love the man 
who lived as he wrote. 


Date Due 
Due Rejou rned Due 

mti 7 19ft] 




Granite and rainbow main 

3 15fc,5 03271 77flb